Learned Irrelevance and Associative Learning Is Attenuated in Individuals at Risk for Psychosis but not in Asymptomatic First-Degree Relatives of Schizophrenia Patients: Translational State Markers of Psychosis?
Learned irrelevance (LIrr) refers to a form of selective learning that develops as a result of prior noncorrelated exposures of the predicted and predictor stimuli. In learning situations that depend on the associative link between the predicted and predictor stimuli, LIrr is expressed as a retardation of learning. It represents a form of modulation of learning by selective attention. Given the relevance of selective attention impairment to both positive and cognitive schizophrenia symptoms, the question remains whether LIrr impairment represents a state (relating to symptom manifestation) or trait (relating to schizophrenia endophenotypes) marker of human psychosis. We examined this by evaluating the expression of LIrr in an associative learning paradigm in (1) asymptomatic first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients (SZ-relatives) and in (2) individuals exhibiting prodromal signs of psychosis (“ultrahigh risk” [UHR] patients) in each case relative to demographically matched healthy control subjects. There was no evidence for aberrant LIrr in SZ-relatives, but LIrr as well as associative learning were attenuated in UHR patients. It is concluded that LIrr deficiency in conjunction with a learning impairment might be a useful state marker predictive of psychotic state but a relatively weak link to a potential schizophrenia endophenotype.