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Psychotic Experiences and Neuropsychological Functioning

Psychotic Experiences and Neuropsychological Functioning in a Population-based Sample (2016)

J. Mollon, A. David and C. Morgan



Psychotic experiences in early life are associated with neuropsychological impairment and the risk for later psychiatric disorders. Psychotic experiences are also prevalent in adults, but neuropsychological investigations spanning adulthood are limited, and confounding factors have not been examined rigorously. This study aimed to characterize neuropsychological functioning in adults with psychotic experiences while adjusting for important sociodemographic characteristics and familial factors and investigating the effect of age.

How was the study conducted?

The South East London Community Health (SELCoH) study is a population-based household survey of physical and mental health in individuals 16 years or older conducted from June 1, 2008, to December 31, 2010, in 2 London boroughs. The study included 1698 participants from 1075 households. Data were analyzed from May 6, 2014, to April 22, 2015. Psychotic experiences measured using the Psychosis Screening Questionnaire. Neuropsychological functioning measured using tests assessing verbal knowledge (Wechsler Test of Adult Reading), working memory (Spatial Delayed Response Task), memory (Visual Object Learning Task), and processing speed (digit symbol coding task). A composite IQ score of general cognitive ability was calculated.

What did we find?

This study provides evidence that subclinical psychotic experiences are associated with mild neuropsychological impairment in adults. The magnitude of impairment in specific domains suggests impaired verbal and memory functions but spared processing speed. Only older adults with psychotic experiences showed medium to large impairments in working memory and memory when adjusting for sociodemographic factors, psychiatric morbidity, and cannabis use. First-degree relatives of probands also had a significant verbal impairment, but not a significant memory impairment. Our findings introduce new knowledge and propose new hypotheses regarding the neuropsychology of psychotic experiences in adults.


The profile of cognitive impairment in adults with psychotic experiences differed from that found in psychotic disorders. Our findings highlight the importance of considering age, familial factors, and the psychosocial context in neuropsychological studies of psychotic experiences.


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