Excessive attractor instability accounts for semantic priming in schizophrenia

Itamar Lerner, Shlomo Bentin, Oren Shriki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


One of the most pervasive findings in studies of schizophrenics with thought disorders is their peculiar pattern of semantic priming, which presumably reflects abnormal associative processes in the semantic system of these patients. Semantic priming is manifested by faster and more accurate recognition of a word-target when preceded by a semantically related prime, relative to an unrelated prime condition. Compared to control, semantic priming in schizophrenics is characterized by reduced priming effects at long prime-target Stimulus Onset Asynchrony (SOA) and, sometimes, augmented priming at short SOA. In addition, unlike controls, schizophrenics consistently show indirect (mediated) priming (such as from the prime 'wedding' to the target 'finger', mediated by 'ring'). In a previous study, we developed a novel attractor neural network model with synaptic adaptation mechanisms that could account for semantic priming patterns in healthy individuals. Here, we examine the consequences of introducing attractor instability to this network, which is hypothesized to arise from dysfunctional synaptic transmission known to occur in schizophrenia. In two simulated experiments, we demonstrate how such instability speeds up the network's dynamics and, consequently, produces the full spectrum of priming effects previously reported in patients. The model also explains the inconsistency of augmented priming results at short SOAs using directly related pairs relative to the consistency of indirect priming. Further, we discuss how the same mechanism could account for other symptoms of the disease, such as derailment ('loose associations') or the commonly seen difficulty of patients in utilizing context. Finally, we show how the model can statistically implement the overly-broad wave of spreading activation previously presumed to characterize thought-disorders in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40663
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - 23 Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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