Contrast sensitivity deficits in schizophrenia: A psychophysical investigation

Vance Zemon, Shaynna Herrera, James Gordon, Nadine Revheim, Gail Silipo, Pamela D. Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Individuals with schizophrenia have problems with visual contrast processing. The current study investigated contrast sensitivity (CS) in schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder to elucidate the underlying neural mechanisms affected by this disorder and to identify critical testing conditions that distinguish individuals with the disorder from healthy individuals. Principal component analysis was applied to the data (N = 143) to separate responses from distinct visual pathways. Participants were 68 patients and 75 age-similar controls. CS was obtained using a forced-choice psychophysical paradigm with grating patterns of low to high spatial frequency presented at short and long durations. Linear mixed-effects models were used to examine differences in log CS with respect to group, duration, and stimulus condition. Lower CSs were found in patients compared to controls over all stimulus conditions with the magnitude of deficits dependent on both spatial frequency and stimulus duration. Log CSs to low and high spatial frequencies loaded onto separate principal components, supporting the existence of two psychophysical mechanisms, transient and sustained. Critical conditions were identified to tap each mechanism. Visual acuity was correlated moderately with log CS to high, but not low, spatial frequencies, and deficits found for acuity and CS to moderate/high spatial frequencies (4–21 cycles/degree) appear to reflect dysfunction in the sustained mechanism. CS deficits found at the lowest spatial frequency tested (0.5 cycles/degree) appear to reflect dysfunction in the transient mechanism. Both types of CS deficits may have diagnostic value and implications for social and neurocognitive deficits in this disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155-1170
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • antipsychotic medication
  • sensory processing
  • spatial frequency
  • visual perception


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