Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Henry Biller


The hypothesis that schizophrenic thought disorder is characterized by cognitive regression is examined using tasks developed by Jean Piaget and his followers. Theoretical bases for the application of Genevan theory to this problem can be found in the writings of Arieti, Bado, and many others. Genevan theory has never been applied to schizophrenic cognitive regression at the conservation level, although Arieti’s description of schizophrenic logic matches Piaget’s of the pre-operational child rather closely.

Special attention is paid to the characteristics of schizophrenia that may be confound research in cognitive regression; field dependency, the loss of communicative skills, and the process-reactive dimension. Measures which tap these areas were given and positive correlations between verbal skill and conservation performance, verbal skill and age, and field dependency and hospitalization were found. Negative correlations, between field dependency and verbal skill and field dependency and conservation, pointed to field dependency as a hallmark of the cognitively regressed. Schizophrenics proved to be more field dependent than depressives who were more field dependent than normal. Schizophrenics’ performance on the conservation tasks was erratic, both due to perceptual boundedness and to communicative difficulties. Normals and depressives performed similarly on the conservation tasks, succeeding on most of them. Process schizophrenics were found to be less cognitively regressed by more field dependent than more reactive schizophrenic.

Subjects consisted of 20 normal adults, 20 hospitalized schizophrenics, and 20 hospitalized depressives. The Goldschmid Concept Assessment Kit (Conservation) was used as the conservation tasks. An abbreviated form of Gottschalk’s embedded figures provided field dependency data. Ullman and Giovanni’s self-report process-reactive scale provided the information that all the schizophrenics in this sample were process ones, but some were more process than others. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test was used as an example of a conventional IQ test.

Conclusions were that: 1) schizophrenics were shown by the conservation tasks to be cognitively regressed, while normal and depressives were not; 2) field dependency seems to go with cognitive regression; 3) conventional IQ tests, such as the Peabody, do not fully tap cognitive regression, being too sensitive to verbal skills and formal education.



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