Self-reflection and set-shifting mediate awareness in cognitively preserved schizophrenia patients

James Gilleen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Poor insight in schizophrenia has been linked to poor cognitive functioning, psychological processes such as denial, or more recently with impaired metacognitive capacity. Few studies, however, have investigated the potential co-dependency of multiple factors in determining level of insight, but such a model is necessary in order to account for patients with good cognitive functioning who have very poor awareness. As evidence suggests that set-shifting and cognitive insight (self-reflection (SR) and self- certainty) are strong predictors of awareness we proposed that these factors are key mediators in the relationship between cognition and awareness. We hypothesised that deficits specifically in SR and set-shifting determine level of awareness in the context of good cognition. Methods: Thirty schizophrenia patients were stratified by high and low awareness of illness and executive functioning scores. Cognitive insight, cognition, mood and symptom measures were compared between sub-groups. Results: A low insight/high executive functioning (LI–HE) group, a high insight/high executive functioning (HI–HE) group and a low insight/low executive functioning (LI–LE) group were revealed. As anticipated, the LI–HE patients showed significantly lower capacity for SR and set-shifting than the HI–HE patients. Conclusions: This study indicates that good cognitive functioning is necessary but not sufficient for good awareness; good awareness specifically demands preserved capacity to self-reflect and shift-set. Results support Nelson and Narens’ [1990. Metamemory: A theoretical framework and new findings. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 26, 125–173] model of metacognition by which awareness is founded on control (set-shifting) and monitoring (SR) processes. These specific factors could be targeted to improve insight in patients with otherwise unimpaired cognitive function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2016

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