Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Latent Inhibition as a Model of Schizophrenia: From Learning to Psychopathology

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Latent Inhibition as a Model of Schizophrenia: From Learning to Psychopathology

Article excerpt

It has traditionally been believed that one of the relevant factors in the appearance of the schizophrenic symptomatology is a disturbance in attention process functioning (e.g., Braff, 1993; Gray, 1998). From this perspective, the contributions that have emerged from experimental psychology to explain the normal functioning of this process have become a very useful tool for understanding what mechanisms and what alterations of such mechanisms are found at the core of some schizophrenic symptoms. In this respect, one of the most notable characteristics of the attention process refers to its limitations, since the attentional resources of living beings are limited, so that diverse strategies that allow us to select at every moment what elements in the surroundings must be paid attention to for in-depth processing have developed.

Specifically, in recent decades a growing interest has been drawn to the study of the attention process that determines how irrelevant stimuli come to be ignored. Thus in any situation, as simple as it may seem, hundreds of stimuli may be identified among which the organism must differentiate at every moment which must be paid attention to and which not in order to interact properly with the circumstances. Conduct adapted to any given situation depends on the proper functioning of this process of selection. Experimental psychology has proposed a mechanism that guarantees that the attentional resources do not become engaged with those stimuli which past experience has shown to be irrelevant. This process, which in scientific literature is called Latent Inhibition (hereinafter, LI), in spite of its apparent simplicity, has generated an impressive amount of empirical research and has attracted numerous theoretical debates (see, for recent reviews, Daza, López & Álvarez, 2002; De la Casa, 2002; De la Casa, Ruiz & Sánchez, 2003).

LI is the result of repeatedly presenting a stimulus that becomes irrelevant when it does not have in and of itself attractive or adverse properties and is not followed by consequences that are important to the organism. Thus, for example, we learn not to pay attention to the noise coming in through the window since our previous experience tells us that it is neither important in and of itself nor is it predictive of relevant consequences. As the result of this training in the irrelevance of stimuli, it has been verified experimentally in numerous situations and with many different species, that the stimulus pre-exposed without consequences loses part of its capacity to establish associative connections with relevant consequences. Research in animals offers numerous examples of how LI may be induced under the strictest conditions of laboratory control: after repeatedly presenting a neutral stimulus (typically a light or a sound) without following it up with relevant consequences, the pre-exposed stimulus is matched to an unconditioned stimulus. The result of this experimental treatment is that acquisition of the association between the pre-exposed stimulus and the unconditioned one is retarded compared to a group for which the neutral stimulus is new.

Numerous theoretical interpretations attempt to explain the process described above (see, for example, Fernández & De la Casa, 1989), although we focus here on a hypothesis that considers that throughout preexposure there would be a gradual descent in attention given the stimulus. (An alternative interpretation of LI, which we will deal with below, alludes to performance more than an attention failure). As a result of this process of inattention, the stimulus would be ignored when later, the LI is presented temporarily in combination with the US, making their association with each other difficult. This theoretical perspective, which is called the Conditioned Attention Theory (Lubow, 1989), in addition to receiving the empirical support from a large part of the research carried out in recent years, has become the starting point for a proposal that integrates data coming from research in animals, with humans with no pathologies and with schizophrenic patients. …

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