Since the time of Kraepelin (1919) and Bleuler (1950) nearly every description of schizophrenia cognitive dysfunction highlights impairments in attention, yet the locus of this deficit is not well understood. One prominent model proposes that the locus of schizophrenia attentional dysfunction is due to an abnormality in the memory representations that we activate to control our attention (i.e., attentional guidance). Another leading model proposes that the neural mechanism important for shifting perceptual attention itself is damaged (i.e., input selection). In this project, I will use visual search tasks and noninvasive electrophysiological methods to test the competing predictions of these models of cognitive dysfunction. My analyses will focus on the relationships between visual working memory, long-term memory, and shifts of perceptual attention during both the proactive period of information processing prior to the behavioral response and the reactive period after an error. Additionally, I will combine electrophysiological methods with noninvasive electrical stimulation to determine whether it is possible to change how schizophrenia patients control and use attention during visual search. The primary research goal is to take the basic neuroscientific tools and insights for tracking the use of top-down control signals in healthy individuals and use them to deepen our understanding of the fundamental cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. The long-term goal is to develop interventions to improve cognitive functioning in these patients. My primary training goal is to become an independent investigator fully competent in performing translational neuroscience with clinical populations. I will meet these goals through targeted coursework, independent reading series, close supervision by my sponsors, building new collaborations with faculty at Vanderbilt University and Columbia University, and continued research. This translational research-training program will prepare me for my career objective of running my own laboratory at a top-tier research university.
The potential contributions of this research include elucidating cognitive models of schizophrenia cognitive dysfunction and developing tools for the temporary remediation of cognitive control impairments in schizophrenia.