Operant conditioning and the orbitofrontal cortex in schizophrenic patients: Unexpected evidence for intact functioning

Kelly E. Wilder, Daniel R. Weinberger, Terry E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies have consistently implicated dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as abnormal in schizophrenia. However, other areas of frontal cortex have received far less attention. In particular, few studies have examined orbital frontal regions with other than olfactory tests. In the present study we wished to assess the functional capability of orbital frontal cortex using a test developed by Bechara et al. (1994) that assesses a subject's capacity to acquire a preference through reward and punishment, using a gambling task that involved gains and losses of play money. Thirty normal subjects and 12 patients with schizophrenia (three undifferentiated, eight paranoid, one schizoaffective) comprised the sample in the present study. We found that patients with schizophrenia exhibited a pattern of findings similar to that of normals and dissimilar to that of patients with known orbital frontal damage. In our study, both normal subjects and schizophrenic patients chose most frequently from decks of cards in which there were frequent rewards and infrequent penalties, as might be expected on the basis of operant conditioning literature. We also found that performance on this task was not correlated with tests of working memory or long-term memory, suggesting that the development of a preference may occur implicitly. Our findings also argue against a general deficit in schizophrenia, as performance on the gambling task appeared relatively uncompromised.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-174
Number of pages6
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 10 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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