Reward Processing in Certain Versus Uncertain Contexts in Schizophrenia: An Event-Related Potential (ERP) Study

Peter E. Clayson, d. Jonathan K. Wynn, Zachary P. Infantolino, Greg Hajcak, Michael F. Green, William P. Horan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Disturbances in motivation are prominent in the clinical presentation of people with schizophrenia and might reflect a disturbance in reward processing. Recent advances in affective neuroscience have subdivided reward processing into distinct components, but there are two limitations of the prior work in schizophrenia. First, studies typically focus on only one component rather than on the unfolding of reward processing across multiple stages. Second, studies have not considered the impact of certainty effects, which represent an important contextual factor that impacts processing. We examined whether individuals with schizophrenia show the typical certainty effects across three phases of reward process-ing: cue evaluation, feedback anticipation, and feedback receipt. Electroencephalography from 74 healthy controls and 92 people with schizophrenia was recorded during a cued gambling task under conditions in which cues indicated forthcoming reward outcomes that were certain or uncertain. Controls demon-strated the expected certainty effects across each stage. Initial cue evaluation (cue P300) was intact in the schizophrenia group, but people with schizophrenia showed diminished certainty effects during feedback anticipation (stimulus-preceding negativity [SPN]) and receipt (feedback reward positivity [fRewP] and feedback P300). During feedback receipt, event-related potentials in people with schizophrenia were similar to controls for the uncertain context but larger than controls for the certain context. Essentially, people with schizophrenia appeared to process certain feedback as though it were uncertain. These findings show, for the first time, that the fundamental distinction between certain and uncertain contexts is altered in schizophrenia at a neural level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)867-880
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. All Rights Reserved.


  • Certainty effects
  • Event-related potentials (erps)
  • Reward processing
  • Schizophrenia
  • Valence effects


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