Repetition is good? An Internet trial on the illusory truth effect in schizophrenia and nonclinical participants

Steffen Moritz*, Ulf Köther, Todd S. Woodward, Ruth Veckenstedt, Alice Dechêne, Christoph Stahl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives: The investigation of cognitive biases has considerably broadened our understanding of the cognitive underpinnings of schizophrenia. This is the first study to investigate the illusory truth or validity effect in schizophrenia, which denotes the phenomenon that the renewed exposure to difficult knowledge questions shifts responses toward affirmation. We hypothesized an excess of the truth effect in schizophrenia, which may play a role in the maintenance of the disorder, particularly relating to positive symptoms. Methods: The study was set up over the Internet. The final analyses considered 36 patients with a probable diagnosis of schizophrenia, and a sample of 40 healthy subjects. Both groups took part on two occasions. In the baseline survey, difficult knowledge questions on neutral (e.g., "On each continent there is a town called Rome." (true)) or emotional (delusion-relevant; e.g., "The German federal police uses approximately 3000 cameras for the purpose of video-based face-detection." (not true)) topics were presented as statements, which were either correct or incorrect. After one week, subjects were requested to take part in the second and final survey. Here, previously presented as well as novel statements had to be appraised according to their truth. Results: As expected, an overall truth effect was found: statements that were repeated achieved higher subjective truth ratings than novel statements. Patients high on positive symptoms showed an excessive truth effect for emotional (delusion-relevant) items. The positive syndrome was correlated with the emotional truth effect in both healthy and schizophrenia participants. Limitations: The sample was recruited via online forums and had probable but not externally validated diagnoses of schizophrenia. No psychiatric control group was tested. Discussion: The truth effect for emotional items appears to be exaggerated in patients high on positive symptoms, which may play a role in delusion formation and maintenance. Several limitations of the study however render our conclusions preliminary. As patients with schizophrenia often dwell on and ruminate over selective and distorted pieces of information (e.g., conspiracy theories), the subjective authenticity of this information may be further elevated by means of the truth effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1058-1063
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Delusions
  • Memory
  • Salience
  • Schizophrenia
  • Truth effect


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