Acquisition of visual priors and induced hallucinations in chronic schizophrenia

Vincent Valton, Povilas Karvelis, Katie L. Richards, Aaron R. Seitz, Stephen M. Lawrie, Peggy Series

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prominent theories suggest that symptoms of schizophrenia stem from learning deficiencies resulting in distorted internal models of the world. To further test these theories, we here use a visual statistical learning task known to induce rapid implicit learning of the stimulus statistics (Chalk et al., 2010). In this task, participants are presented with a field of coherently moving dots and need to report the presented direction of the dots (estimation task) and whether they saw any dots or not (detection task). Two of the directions were more frequently presented than the others. In controls, the implicit acquisition of the stimuli statistics influences their perception in two ways: 1- motion directions are perceived as being more similar to the most frequently presented directions than they really are (estimation biases); 2- in the absence of stimuli, participants sometimes report perceiving the most frequently presented directions (a form of hallucinations). Such behaviour is consistent with probabilistic inference, i.e. combining learnt perceptual priors with sensory evidence. We investigated whether patients with chronic, stable, treated schizophrenia (n=20) differ from controls (n=23) in the acquisition of the perceptual priors and/or their influence on perception. We found that, although patients were slower than controls, they showed comparable acquisition of perceptual priors, correctly approximating the stimulus statistics. This suggests that patients have no statistical learning deficits in our task. This may reflect our patients’ relative wellbeing on antipsychotic medication. Intriguingly, however, patients experienced significantly fewer hallucinations of the most frequently presented directions than controls when the stimulus was absent or when it was very weak (prior-based lapse estimations). This suggests that prior expectations had less influence on patients’ perception than on controls when stimuli were absent or below perceptual threshold.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2523–2537
Number of pages35
Issue number8
Early online date29 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Schizophrenia
  • Inference
  • statistical learning
  • hallucinations


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