Binocular rivalry and visuospatial ability in individuals with schizophrenia

Heslop, Karen Ruth (2012) Binocular rivalry and visuospatial ability in individuals with schizophrenia. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Visual abnormalities, both at the sensory input and the higher interpretive levels, have been associated with many of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia typically experience distortions of sensory perception, resulting in perceptual hallucinations and delusions that are related to the observed visual deficits. Disorganised speech, thinking and behaviour are commonly experienced by sufferers of the disorder, and have also been attributed to perceptual disturbances associated with anomalies in visual processing. Compounding these issues are marked deficits in cognitive functioning that are observed in approximately 80% of those with schizophrenia. Cognitive impairments associated with schizophrenia include: difficulty with concentration and memory (i.e. working, visual and verbal), an impaired ability to process complex information, response inhibition and deficits in speed of processing, visual and verbal learning. Deficits in sustained attention or vigilance, poor executive functioning such as poor reasoning, problem solving, and social cognition, are all influenced by impaired visual processing. These symptoms impact on the internal perceptual world of those with schizophrenia, and hamper their ability to navigate their external environment. Visual processing abnormalities in schizophrenia are likely to worsen personal, social and occupational functioning.

Binocular rivalry provides a unique opportunity to investigate the processes involved in visual awareness and visual perception. Binocular rivalry is the alternation of perceptual images that occurs when conflicting visual stimuli are presented to each eye in the same retinal location. The observer perceives the opposing images in an alternating fashion, despite the sensory input to each eye remaining constant. Binocular rivalry tasks have been developed to investigate specific parts of the visual system. The research presented in this Thesis provides an explorative investigation into binocular rivalry in schizophrenia, using the method of Pettigrew and Miller (1998) and comparing individuals with schizophrenia to healthy controls. This method allows manipulations to the spatial and temporal frequency, luminance contrast and chromaticity of the visual stimuli. Manipulations to the rival stimuli affect the rate of binocular rivalry alternations and the time spent perceiving each image (dominance duration). Binocular rivalry rate and dominance durations provide useful measures to investigate aspects of visual neural processing that lead to the perceptual disturbances and cognitive dysfunction attributed to schizophrenia. However, despite this promise the binocular rivalry phenomenon has not been extensively explored in schizophrenia to date.

Following a review of the literature, the research in this Thesis examined individual variation in binocular rivalry. The initial study (Chapter 2) explored the effect of systematically altering the properties of the stimuli (i.e. spatial and temporal frequency, luminance contrast and chromaticity) on binocular rivalry rate and dominance durations in healthy individuals (n=20). The findings showed that altering the stimuli with respect to temporal frequency and luminance contrast significantly affected rate. This is significant as processing of temporal frequency and luminance contrast have consistently been demonstrated to be abnormal in schizophrenia.

The current research then explored binocular rivalry in schizophrenia. The primary research question was, "Are binocular rivalry rates and dominance durations recorded in participants with schizophrenia different to those of the controls?" In this second study binocular rivalry data that were collected using low- and highstrength binocular rivalry were compared to alternations recorded during a monocular rivalry task, the Necker Cube task to replicate and advance the work of Miller et al., (2003). Participants with schizophrenia (n=20) recorded fewer alternations (i.e. slower alternation rates) than control participants (n=20) on both binocular rivalry tasks, however no difference was observed between the groups on the Necker cube task.

Magnocellular and parvocellular visual pathways, thought to be abnormal in schizophrenia, were also investigated in binocular rivalry. The binocular rivalry stimuli used in this third study (Chapter 4) were altered to bias the task for one of these two pathways. Participants with schizophrenia recorded slower binocular rivalry rates than controls in both binocular rivalry tasks. Using a ‘within subject design’, binocular rivalry data were compared to data collected from a backwardmasking task widely accepted to bias both these pathways. Based on these data, a model of binocular rivalry, based on the magnocellular and parvocellular pathways that contribute to the dorsal and ventral visual streams, was developed.

Binocular rivalry rates were compared with performance on the Benton’s Judgment of Line Orientation task, in individuals with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls (Chapter 5). The Benton’s Judgment of Line Orientation task is widely accepted to be processed within the right cerebral hemisphere, making it an appropriate task to investigate the role of the cerebral hemispheres in binocular rivalry, and to investigate the inter-hemispheric switching hypothesis of binocular rivalry proposed by Pettigrew and Miller (1998, 2003). The data were suggestive of intra-hemispheric rather than an inter-hemispheric visual processing in binocular rivalry.

Neurotransmitter involvement in binocular rivalry, backward masking and Judgment of Line Orientation in schizophrenia were investigated using a genetic indicator of dopamine receptor distribution and functioning; the presence of the Taq1 allele of the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) receptor gene. This final study (Chapter 6) explored whether the presence of the Taq1 allele of the DRD2 receptor gene, and thus, by inference the distribution of dopamine receptors and dopamine function, accounted for the large individual variation in binocular rivalry. The presence of the Taq1 allele was associated with slower binocular rivalry rates or poorer performance in the backward masking and Judgment of Line Orientation tasks seen in the group with schizophrenia.

This Thesis has contributed to what is known about binocular rivalry in schizophrenia. Consistently slower binocular rivalry rates were observed in participants with schizophrenia, indicating abnormally-slow visual processing in this group. These data support previous studies reporting visual processing abnormalities in schizophrenia and suggest that a slow binocular rivalry rate is not a feature specific to bipolar disorder, but may be a feature of disorders with psychotic features generally.

The contributions of the magnocellular or dorsal pathways and parvocellular or ventral pathways to binocular rivalry, and therefore to perceptual awareness, were investigated. The data presented supported the view that the magnocellular system initiates perceptual awareness of an image and the parvocellular system maintains the perception of the image, making it available to higher level processing occurring within the cortical hemispheres. Abnormal magnocellular and parvocellular processing may both contribute to perceptual disturbances that ultimately contribute to the cognitive dysfunction associated with schizophrenia. An alternative model of binocular rivalry based on these observations was proposed.

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ID Code: 59610
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Young, Ross McD. & Schmid, Katrina L.
Keywords: A1 allele, backward masking, Benton’s judgment of line orientation, binocular rivalry, dopamine, schizophrenia, Taq1A
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 02 May 2013 01:47
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 05:23

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