Course of Cognitive Development From Infancy to Early Adulthood in the Psychosis Spectrum

Josephine Mollon, Anthony S David, Stanley Zammit, Glyn H Lewis, Abraham Reichenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)
266 Downloads (Pure)


Importance: Most patients with psychotic disorders experience severe cognitive impairment, but the onset and course of this impairment remain unclear. Moreover, the course of cognitive functions in other psychiatric conditions remains largely unexamined.

Objective: To chart the course of general and specific cognitive functions in individuals with psychotic disorders, psychotic experiences, and depression.

Design, Setting, and Participants: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) is a prospective cohort study comprising all live births between April 1, 1991, and December 31, 1992, in Avon, England. The dates of analysis were September 2015 to July 2016. Participants who underwent cognitive testing at ages 18 months and 4, 8, 15, and 20 years and psychiatric assessment at age 18 years were included.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Individuals with psychotic disorder, psychosis with depression, psychotic experiences, and depression were compared with controls. Outcomes were full-scale, verbal, and nonverbal IQ at ages 18 months and 4, 8, 15, and 20 years, as well as measures of processing speed, working memory, language, visuospatial ability, and attention at ages 8 and 20 years.

Results: The following numbers of individuals were available for analyses in this longitudinal birth cohort study: 511 (238 male [46.6%]) at age 18 months (mean [SD] age, 1.53 [0.03] years), 483 (229 male [47.4%]) at age 4 years (mean [SD] age, 4.07 [0.03] years), 3930 (1679 male [42.7%]) at age 8 years (mean [SD] age, 8.65 [0.29] years), 3783 (1686 male [44.6%]) at age 15 years (mean [SD] age, 15.45 [0.27] years), and 257 (90 male [35.0%]) at age 20 years (mean [SD] age, 20.06 [0.55] years). Individuals with psychotic disorder showed continually increasing deficits between infancy (18 months) and adulthood (20 years) in full-scale IQ (effect size of change [ESΔ] = -1.09, P = .02) and nonverbal IQ (ESΔ = -0.94, P = .008). The depression group showed a small, increasing deficit in nonverbal IQ (ESΔ = -0.29, P = .04) between infancy and adulthood. Between ages 8 and 20 years, the psychotic disorder group exhibited developmental lags (ie, slower growth) in measures of processing speed (ESΔ = -0.68, P = .001), working memory (ESΔ = -0.59, P = .004), and attention (ESΔ = -0.44, P = .001) and large, static deficits in measures of language (ES = -0.87, P = .005) and visuospatial ability (ES = -0.90, P = .001). There was only weak evidence for cognitive deficits in the psychosis with depression group and the psychotic experiences group.

Conclusions and Relevance: The findings herein suggest that the origins of psychotic disorder involve dynamic developmental processes, affecting both verbal and nonverbal abilities throughout the first 2 decades of life and leading to increasing dysfunction. These developmental processes do not manifest in other psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis with depression and depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-279
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number3
Early online date31 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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  • NIHR BRC Mental Health

    Gunnell, D. J.


    Project: Research, Parent

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