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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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98. Aberrant Signal Detection as the Behavioral Manifestation of Apophenia

‘Apophenia’, or the tendency to find patterns in unrelated perceptions, may link normative and pathological sensory experiences. Apophenia has been well-characterized by personality assessment, but has limited behavioral and functional correlates, particularly in clinical populations. The current set of studies explores how perceptual association tasks and divergent thinking relate to apophenia in normative and psychiatric samples. Study 1 included an undergraduate sample (N=207) comprehensively assessed using normative and maladaptive measures of personality. Experimental paradigms included visual, auditory, and semantic detection tasks, and verbal and figural divergent thinking tasks. The relationship between variables was tested using structural equation modeling (SEM). Study 2 explored a subset of personality measures and the visual object detection task in a clinical population of outpatients with psychotic disorders, first-degree biological relatives, and psychiatrically unaffected individuals (N=141). Apophenia was consistently associated with heightened signal detection in experimentally manipulated perceptual tasks in the general population but not in persons with psychotic disorders. Deviations in perceptual functions that support the detection of ambiguous stimuli reflect normative expressions of trait-level apophenia. However, further investigation is necessary to connect apophenia to psychotic phenomenology in the context of mental illness.

Julia M. Longenecker
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System

Scott R. Sponheim
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis VA Healthcare System

Colin DeYoung
University of Minnesota

Bonnie Klimes-Dougan
University of Minnesota


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