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Emotional Cues Can Improve Prospective Memory Performance in Patients with Schizophrenia and Major Depressive Disorder

May 29, 2018

Prospective memory (PM) is an important memory for future, refers to the ability to remember to carry out future intentions when prompted by a cue, such as posting a mail when passing the post office. Clinical populations including patients with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder have shown PM deficits.

Previous studies have suggested that emotional PM cues may enhance PM performance, but few studies have examined whether clinical populations can also acquire this enhancement effect.

This issue was investigated by Dr. Raymond Chan and his team from the Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience (NACN) Laboratory, CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, and Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

They recruited 47 patients with schizophrenia, 22 patients with major depressive disorder and 37 healthy controls for the study. These patients completed the PM task with negative, positive or neutral PM word cues.

The task required participants to remember completing the PM tasks when seeing the PM cues during a working memory task.

Healthy participants showed improved PM performance with positive and negative cues.

Patients with major depressive disorder were not impaired in PM performance and showed significant improvement in PM performance when cued by negative but not positive cues, suggesting that the negative bias in attention and retrospective memory may also extend to memory for future actions. 

Patients with schizophrenia had impaired PM performance irrespective of cue emotionality, showing for the first time that patients with schizophrenia exhibit PM impairments even with emotional cues.

In addition, the majority of the patients with schizophrenia failed to show an emotional enhancement effect, and only those who had normal arousal ratings for negative PM cues showed emotional enhancement effect, indicating that arousal may be a critical factor for schizophrenia patients to utilize emotional cues to facilitate execution of future actio. 

These novel findings suggest that emotional cues not only facilitate PM ability in healthy populations but also improve PM function in clinical groups.

These findings have both important theoretical and clinical implications. Future study can continue investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms of enhancement effect of emotional PM cues.

The paper is now published online in a papaer in Schizophrenia Research entitled "Effect of emotional cues on prospective memory performance in patients with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder".

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation of China, the Beijing Training Project for the Leading Talents in Science and Technology, the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation, the Strategic Priority Research Programme (B), the CAS/SAFEA International Partnership Programme for Creative Research Teams and the CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health.

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