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  • Research article
  • Open Access
  • Open Peer Review

A systematic review on improving cognition in schizophrenia: which is the more commonly used type of training, practice or strategy learning?

  • 1Email author,
  • 2,
  • 3,
  • 1 and
  • 1
BMC Psychiatry201414:139

  • Received: 31 July 2013
  • Accepted: 28 April 2014
  • Published:
Open Peer Review reports



The purpose of this article was to conduct a review of the types of training offered to people with schizophrenia in order to help them develop strategies to cope with or compensate for neurocognitive or sociocognitive deficits.


We conducted a search of the literature using keywords such as “schizophrenia”, “training”, and “cognition” with the most popular databases of peer-reviewed journals.


We reviewed 99 controlled studies in total (though nine did not have a control condition). We found that drill and practice training is used more often to retrain neurocognitive deficits while drill and strategy training is used more frequently in the context of sociocognitive remediation.


Hypotheses are suggested to better understand those results and future research is recommended to compare drill and strategy with drill and practice training for both social and neurocognitive deficits in schizophrenia.


  • Schizophrenia
  • Explicit
  • Implicit
  • Training
  • Cognition
  • Sociocognition
  • Neurocognition


About 80% of individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia struggle with a variety of neurocognitive and sociocognitive deficits [1, 2]. The neurocognitive domains typically affected include speed of processing, attention/vigilance, working memory, verbal learning, reasoning and problem solving [3, 4], whereas social cue perception, affect recognition, attribution, and theory of mind are the sociocognitive domains most affected [5, 6]. Cognitive dysfunctions are considered to be core features of schizophrenia, since they are strongly correlated with poor functional outcome [79] as well as being better predictors of general outcome and rehabilitation than positive symptoms [10, 11]. Although pharmacological and psychological treatments can effectively reduce [12] positive symptoms of schizophrenia, they do little to improve cognition [7]. Thus, using cognitive retraining or remediation to create significant improvements has received more attention in recent years [7, 13]. According to T Wykes, V Huddy, C Cellard, SR McGurk and P Czobor [14], there are two types of training: 1) “drill and practice,” where there is no explicit component, meaning that learning is based on repeating a task that becomes gradually more difficult and where participants implicitly learn the strategy by trial and error, and 2) “drill and strategy,” where the focus is to teach the explicit use of a determined strategy (see also [12]). While explicit learning impairments have been consistently reported in schizophrenia literature [15, 16], there is still a debate over impairments to implicit learning. For example, some studies report that implicit learning is intact for tasks such as probabilistic classification learning (e.g., [17]), weather prediction (e.g., [18]), and artificial grammar learning (e.g., [19]), while others report an impairment in colour pattern learning but not in letter string learning [20]. Adding to this conundrum are a variety of different training procedures currently being tested, both for drill and strategy (includes explicit and implicit learning) and for drill and practice (implicit learning only). These training procedures focus on a variety of different targets therefore, in this review, we will focus on neurocognitive and sociocognitive domains. For this reason we will not include studies aiming solely to reduce positive or negative symptoms or to improve upon social skills. Contrary to the recently published meta-analyses focusing on efficacy of cognitive training [14, 21], this review will analyze and describe which training paradigms were most used to improve neurocognitive and sociocognitive deficits, whether they be drill and practice or drill and strategy methods.


Review protocol

Inclusion criteria: 1) outcome: either neurocognition or sociocognition, 2) date and journal: peer-reviewed journals from 1995 up to 2013, 3) language: English or French, 4) diagnosis: majority (≥70%) of participants with a schizophrenia diagnosis (others include schizoaffective disorders and first-episode psychosis). We excluded all training types that aimed solely to reduce positive or negative symptoms, improve social skills, increase metacognition, etc. Nevertheless, studies that targeted sociocognition or neurocognition while also aiming to reduce symptoms or improve social skills as secondary objective, were included. Finally, we removed studies that used the training or remediation for evaluation rather than for treatment (i.e., studies assessing the deficits at baseline with no intention of remediation or intervention) as well as meta-analyses and reviews. Our goal was to review studies that had a therapeutic outcome. Since the main objective of our article is to provide a descriptive listing of the training offered and not to conduct an efficacy analysis, we included studies that did not have control conditions. Given the large number of articles included (n = 99), and the fact that our definitions of the types of training were inclusive, the first three authors read, classified, and compared their ratings for each article to ensure reliability of the results. Articles were classified in two categories, according to the targeted deficits: i) Sociocognitive, which included topics such as emotional recognition, Theory of Mind, attributional style, and social cue recognition; ii) Neurocognitive, which included areas such as executive functioning, memory and attention. Importantly, social functioning was excluded from the dichotomy of classification as most, if not all studies, ultimately aim to improve upon work and functional outcomes of individuals. Furthermore, we compared the results of our literature search with articles listed in the meta-analyses of T Wykes, V Huddy, C Cellard, SR McGurk and P Czobor [14], O Grynszpan, S Perbal, A Pelissolo, P Fossati, R Jouvent, S Dubal and F Perez-Diaz [22] and A Medalia and AM Saperstein [23] to ensure that we did not miss any relevant articles.

Article retrieval

We conducted a literature review using the following databases: PsychINFO (1995 to May 2013), MEDLINE (R) (1995 to May 2013) and MEDLINE Daily Update (R). Using the title keywords “schizophrenia and (training or remediation or intervention or practice) and (soci*a or neuro* or cogniti* or metacogniti* or problem-solving or visual or memory)” , we obtained 465 results from all databases. To ensure further precision we added the following filters: a) “limit to English and French language” (to ensure understanding of the content) which yielded 172 results, b) “limit to peer-reviewed journals” resulting in 164 results. The final manipulation was to remove all duplicates, which left us with a total of 121 articles to investigate. Upon final removal of all articles that did not meet our criteria, we reviewed 99 articles. The last date of search for articles was January 2014.


Results are presented in Tables 1, 2 and 3, divided according to the aim of the studies: improving neurocognitive deficits, sociocognitive deficits or both. These were further subdivided by either drill and practice or drill and strategy training methods. First, we will describe the studies that focus on a single area of cognition (i.e., Table 1 for neurocognition and Table 2 for sociocognition) as treatment targets and that used a single training type (drill and practice or drill and strategy). Then, we will describe the results of studies with multiple aims in terms of neurocognitive and sociocognitive deficits (Table 3). There is an important distinction to be made between the targeted deficits – which is how we classified the studies between neurocognition, sociocognition, or both – and the measured variables. Indeed, it is often the case that a variable is measured to assess the impact of the training without having been specifically targeted by the training, which, therefore, gives a sense of the generalization of the results. As seen more explicitly in Table 2, many of the studies aiming to improve sociocognition also measure the impact of the training on more neurocognitive variables.
Table 1

Training to improve neurocognitive deficits



Targeted deficits

Type of training

Measured variables


Control and samples


Memory and problem solving

Cognitive Remediation (CR) and Treatment-As-Usual (TAU)

Psychiatric symptoms

Both CR groups improved on the Positive, negative and general psychopathology subscales but also on the Positive and Depression factors

Control group N = 54


Autobiographical memory

Group therapy and exercises to recollect specific events

Autobiographical memory, executive functioning

Improvements on the variables that were preserved after 3 months

Placebo group N = 27


Cognitive deficits, and transfert to functional competence

CR + skills training CR + TAU Skills training + TAU

Cognitive performance (reasoning, problem solving, processing speed, verbal memory, working memory) Social competence, functional competence, real-world functional behaviour

CR produced robust improvements in neurocognition, but not after functional skills training. Social competence improved with both trainings. Functional competence higher and more durable with combined treatment. Functional competence and real-world behavior was more likely when supplemental skills training and cognitive remediation were combined.

Control group N = 107


Neurocognition and transfert to social competence

CR and Functional Adaptation skills training (FAST) Control: FAST or CR

Functional competence, information processing, verbal fluency, working memory, executive functioning, verbal memory

The early-course group had larger improvements in measures of processing speed and executive functions, adaptive competence and real-world work skills. Verbal memory, verbal fluency and social competence did not improve

None N = 39


Neurocognition at large

CR and one-on-one training and guided practice

Attention, working and episodic memory, executive functioning, processing speed, everyday community functioning

No improvements were found

Placebo group N = 69


Psychiatric symptoms and cognition (episodic memory and attention)

Neurcognitive Enhancement Therapy (NET) + Work therapy and Verbal memory task based on a dichotic listening (DL) with distracter paradigm NET + Work therapy alone

Symptoms, attention and memory

Significant effect on memory but not on attention or symptoms. nor at 6 months follow up

Control group N = 125


Attention, memory and executive functioning

CR and group therapy

Verbal learning and memory, executive functioning, visual learning and memory, depression, positive and negative symptoms

Significant improvements in neuropsychological functioning, depression and negative symptoms of schizophrenia after CRT

Control group N = 42


Executive functioning

Cognitive Adaptation Training (CAT) applied to integrated treatment (IT) consisting of assertive community treatment (ACT)

Social functioning, symptoms and quality of life; executive functioning

Improved social functioning and compliance with IT and ACT. No solid evidence demonstrating that IT improves when adding CAT

Control group N = 62


Verbal and visual memory, sustained attention and executive functioning

CR with Neuropsychological Educational Approach to Remediation (NEAR)

Processing speed, executive functioning, sustained attention, verbal memory, visual memory, reasoning/cognitive flexibility, social/occupational functioning, life skills, quality of life, self-esteem

Experimental group showed improvement in all variables, gains maintained after 4 months

Control group

N = 40


Verbal memory, working memory, motor speed, verbal fluency, attention, processing speed and executive functioning

CR with NEAR

Verbal memory,working memory, motor speed, verbal fluency, attention and speed of information processing, executive functioning

Improvement in all outcomes compared to control with CR

Control group

N = 51


Cognitive deficits to improve work outcomes

Errorless learning Conventional instruction

Work performance, job tenure, personal well-being (self-esteem, job satisfaction, work stress)

The patients in the errorless learning group performed better on work performance

Control group N=40


Neurocognition at large

Cognitive (CR) and supported education

Self-esteem, short term memory, verbal learning and memory, executive functioning, sustained attention, psychomotor speed, educational attainment

CR can be successfully integrated into an educational setting. Improvements in concentration , learning, some aspects of executive functioning, psychosis symptomatology

None N=16


Cognitive deficits to improve work outcomes

Thinking Skills for Work Program (TSWP) + Supported Employment (SE) and Supported Employment only

Attention, psychomotor speed, information processing speed, verbal learning and memory, executive functioning, premorbid academic achievement, symptoms, employment outcomes

For TSWP+SE, improvement in executive functioning and in the composite cognition score. Improved significantly more on Depression and Autistic preoccupation (symptoms). Participants were significantly more likely to work, worked more hours and earned more wages

Control group N = 44


Cognitive deficits to improve work outcomes

Thinking Skills for Work Program (TSWP) + Supported Employment (SE) and Supported Employment only

Work outcomes

In TSWP+SE, over 2-3 years, participants were more likely to work, held more jobs, worked more weeks, worked more hours, and earned more wages. Cognitive functioning and symptoms not assessed.

Control group N = 44



Computer-assisted problem-solving remediation (PS), memory remediation or TAU

Problem-solving, memory, verbal knowledge, independent living

PS improved problem solving skills

Control group N = 54


Cognitive differentiation, social perception, communication, social skills, and interpersonal problem solving

Integrated Psychological Therapy (IPT)

intellectual ability, memory, verbal fluency, executive functioning and psychosocial functioning

Improvement in memory and executive functioning for those with cognitive impairments

Control group N = 27


Social functioning and neurocognitive deficits

CR and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for control

Working memory, psychomotor speed, verbal memory, nonverbal memory, and executive functioning, and social functioning

Overall improvement in neurcognition especially in verbal and nonverbal memory and executive functioning. Improvement in social functioning

Control group N = 40


Verbal and working memory, selective attention and semantic fluency


Verbal and working memory, speed/coordination, selection attention, semantic and letter fluency, executive functioning, sustained attention, interpersonal relations, instrumental role, self-directedness

3, 6 and months follow up: improvements in attention, psychomotor coordination, cognitive flexibility

Placebo condition N = 100


Memory and executive functioning

One program including 1) paper-and-pencil training 2) computer exercises

Visual attention, cognitive flexibility, sustained attention, inhibition, working memory, long-term verbal memory, executive functioning, planning

CR showed improvements in neuro- and socio-cognitive functions but not on arousal or cognitive flexibility

Placebo group N = 59



Attention Process Training (APT) and attention-shaping procedure after

Verbal learning, sustained attention

Dramatic improvement in attentiveness in APT but attention-shaping procedure appears to account for the change

Control group N = 31


Neurocognition linked to social competence and behavior

Integrated Psychological Therapy (IPT), supportive therapy and TAU

Social competence, pre-attentional processing, attention, memory, executive functioning and symptoms

IPT improved social competence only

Control group N = 90


Memory, attention, vigilance, executive functioning

CR alone or CR+pharmacotherapy

Attention, learning, memory, executive functioning, functional capacity, negative symptoms, subjective quality of life

CR improved verbal and visual memory at 3 months, not maintained at 6 months. Verbal learning, executive functioning and attention improved at 6 months. Quality of life improvements at 3 months, increased at 6 months

Control group N = 38


Cognitive deficits and negative symptoms

Cognitive strategy training (CAST) and training of self-management skills for negative symptoms (TSSN)

Attention, verbal memory and planning, social withdrawal/social anhedonia, lack of drive, affect flattening

CAST=Greater improvement on attention and verbal memory but not planning ability. Higher job placement TSSN=no improvement in negative symptoms

Control group N = 138


Memory, cognitive flexibility and planning

Neurocognitive remediation and intensive occupational therapy (control)

Cognitive flexibility, planning and working memory. Social behaviour, self-esteem

Improvements in cognitive flexibility and working memory no changes in symptoms or social functioning, 6 month follow up

Control group N = 33


Memory, cognitive flexibility and planning

CR and Intensive occupational therapy

Memory, working memory, cognitive flexibility, response inhibition, planning, symptoms and functioning, self-esteem

Effects of CR at follow-up are still significant on working memory, there were no more effects on self-esteem, 3 and 6 month follow up

Control group N = 33


Memory, cognitive flexibility and planning

CR and TAU

Working Memory, cognitive flexibility, and planning, Secondary: self-esteem, positive and negative symptoms, social functioning

Improvement in working memory and cognitive flexibility, Memory improvement predicted improvement in social functioning.

Control Group N = 85


Memory, cognitive flexibility and planning

CR with remembering, complex planning, problem-solving and TAU

Memory, cognitive flexibility, planning, social behaviour, quality of life, self-esteem

CR improved cognitive flexibility, social functioning, 14 et 18 weeks follow up

Control group N = 40



Neurocognitive deficits

Neurocognitive enhancement therapy (NET) & working therapy (WT)

Cognitive flexibility, social inference, emotion recognition, abstract thought, verbal learning, memory

NET + WT greater improvements in executive functioning, working memory and affect recognition

Control group N = 65


Working memory deficits

CR and working therapy (WT)

Attention, memory and executive functioning

CRT+WT yield greater improvements and effects remain over time (6 months)

Control group N = 102


Cognitive deficits to improve work outcomes

Neurocognitive enhancement therapy (NET) + work therapy

Work productivity (hours and dollars earned)

Patients worked more hours, had more dollars earned and tended to have more competitive-wage employment

Control group N = 145


Attention, memory and executive functioning

Neurocognitive enhancement therapy (NET) + Work therapy Work therapy alone

Working memory, verbal and nonverbal memory, thought disorder, executive functioning

Significant improvements in working memory and executive functioning.Both groups had a significant effect on memory (verbal and visual)

Control group N = 145


Functional outcomes (follow up study using the same NET program so classified here instead of in Table 2)

Neurocognitive Enhancement Therapy (NET) + vocational program (VOC)

Work hours, employment rates

NET+VOC patients worked more hours during the 12 month follow-up period and they had higher rates of employment

Control group N = 72


Neurocognition, negative symptoms, self-esteem

Computer-assisted cognitive rehabilitation (CACR)

Attentional deficit, verbal and auditory memory, general level of cognitive functioning, negative symptoms, self-esteem

CACR improved verbal/conceptual learning and memory and executive functioning

Placebo group N = 34


Repetition and memory

Virtual reality training

Orientation, attention, calculations, constructions, memory, language, and reasoning

Improvement of overall cognition

Control group N = 27


Attention/concentration, working memory, logic, and executive functions


Attention/vigilance, verbal/non-verbal working memory, verbal and visual learning and memory, speed of processing, reasoning, problem-solving, quality of life and social autonomy

Improvements in attention/vigilance, verbal memory, problem solving

Control group N = 77


Cognitive deficits

Pharmacotherapy and cognitive retraining (CR) together 1) drug+CR, 2) drug + control CR, 3) placebo + CR, 4) placebo+control CR

Verbal working memory, attention/vigilance Measures of tolerability and safety

CR- significant improvement in verbal working memory. Trend toward improvement in Attention/Vigilance

Control groups N = 104


Executive functioning (and metacognition)

Problem Solving and Cognitive Flexibility trainin (REPYFLEC)

Verbal and visual memory. cognitive flexibility, inhibition of impulsive responses, planning and organization, working memory and time-estimation capacity, attention, processing speed and cognitive flexibility social behavior and relationships, autonomy, employment-occupation and leisure, self-care, social behavior and autonomy

Significant improvements in executive function, negative symptoms and Positive change in life skills and psychosocial functioning. Skills maintained at follow-up especially in self-care, social behavior and employment-occupation.

Control group N = 62


Attentional deficit

Computer-Assisted cognitive rehabilitation or computer games

Various measures of attention such as trail making, letter-cancellation, Stroop, seach-a-word, etc.

Both groups improved in letter-cancellation task due to practice effect

Control group N = 10


Verbal and global cognition

Auditory training

Global cognition, speed of processing, verbal memory/learning, problem-solving, nonverbal memory, visual learning/memory, social cognition

Strong improvement in verbal and global cognition

Placebo group N = 55


Cognition in general

Targeted cognitive training (TCT)

Global cognition, speed of processing, verbal working and learning memory and cognitive control

TCT improvements in verbal learning/memory and cognitive control even 6 months after therapy

Control group N = 32


Cognitive deficits in memory

Computerized cognitive remediation training - digits sequenced recall and words sequenced recall (control: work therapy only)

Cognitive deficits, more specifically memory

Significantly greater improvements on the computerized memory task (digits sequenced recall) remained at the 6 month follow up

Control group N = 94


Memory, attention, cognitive flexibility

Vocational Program (VOC) and NET+VOC

Cognitive flexibility and executive functioning, working memory, visual and verbal memory, social cognition

VOC+NET greater improvement on all outcomes. No improvement in affect recognition after 1 year

Placebo group N = 72


Neural correlates of emotion identification

Training of Affect Recognition (TAR) and TAU

Emotion identification, emotion discrimination, digit symbol, digit span, symptoms, neural activation

TAR improved performance in emotion recognition and discrimination more than TAU and controls. Psychopathological status improvements for both TAR and TAU

Control group and healthy controls N = 30


Effects of age on cognitive functioning

CR and TAU

Working memory, cognitive flexibility and planning. Groups split on age

CR improved working memory only in younger group

Control group N = 134


attention, memory, language and problem-solving

CR and computer-skills training

Working memory, verbal episodic memory, speed of processing, visual episodic memory, reasoning and problem-solving

CR improved working memory but both groups showed improvement on other measures

Placebo group N = 42


Cognitive functioning in general


Attention, psychomotor speed, verbal working memory, verbal learning and memory and executive functioning, information processing speed, academic achievement

Cognitive remediation improvements in overall cognitive functioning, psychomotor speed, and verbal learning

Control group N = 85


Cognitive functioning

Attention Process Training (APT)

Attention, memory and executive functioning Other: positive and negative symptoms

Neither group improved in symptoms and attention and memory measures. APT group had higher performance on executive function

Placebo group N = 24


Attention and information processing

Continuous Performance Test (CPT)

Attention and negative symptoms

CPT improved both measures

Control group N = 54



Memory remediation (MR), problem-solving remediation and TAU

Memory, verbal learning, problem-solving

MR improved memory but not verbal recall

Control group N = 54


Cognitive impairment

Brain Fitness Program (BFP)

Cognitive performance (CogStat) Functional capacity, auditory processing speed for verbal and non-verbal tasks

BFP training improved auditory processing speed but no effect on cognitive impairments

None N = 55


Divergent thinking

Rock-paper-scissors task, calculation tiles task

Idea, design and letter fluency, digit span, social functioning

Improvements in idea fluency, functioning, and interpersonal relations

Control group N = 17


Visual motion processing

Target discrimination

Perceptual motion and direction processing

Greater perceptual improvement in schizophrenia

Healthy controls N = 27


Cognitive and daily functioning deficits (but concentrating on the neurobiological mechanism that underline them)

CR and Social Skills Training

Functional and structural connectivity brain changes

Brain networks activation pattern significantly changed in patients exposed to the cognitive treatment in the sense of normalizing toward the patterns observed in healthy control subjects

Control groupN = 30


Dysfunctional organization of the auditory/verbal system

Targeted auditory/verbal discrimination Training (TAD) or CRT (CogPack)

Verbal learning and fluency, recall, working memory, clinical symptoms as exploratory measure

Improvement in verbal learning and memory for TAD but no effect on clinical symptoms

Control group N = 39


Brain oscillary activity, linked to dysfunctional information processing

Specific cognitive exercises (CE) fostering auditory/verbal discrimination or standard broad-range cognitive training (CP)

Verbal memory, global functioning, brain oscillary activity

CE improves brain oscillary activity and reduces information processing dysfunction

Control group and healthy controls N = 51


Verbal memory and learning, processing speed, working memory and attention


Verbal memory, visual working memory, visuo-spatial memory, processing speed, psychomotor speed, working memory, verbal fluency, attention, visual-perceptual function

Patients in all groups improved in measures of information processing, verbal memory, and visuospatial memory

One placebo group and one control group N = 44


Cognitive deficits

CR (Cogpack)

Memory functions, attention, concentration, logical abilities, verbal reasoning

Cogpack improves cognitive functioning in persons at risk. Specifically at risk group improve in long-term memory functions, attention, and concentration. Patients with schizophrenia – no improvement.

Control group N =16 schizophrenia N = 10 at risk


Planning and problem-solving, processing speed, memory and attention

Plan-a-day And Training for basic cognition

Planning ability, problem-solving, global assessment, functional capacity, working memory, verbal memory, processing speed and inhibition

Both groups improved in measures of cognitive functioning and functional capacity. Plan-a-day improved planning

None N = 89


Verbal learning and processing speed


Word fluency, memory and recall,

All outcomes improved in CR

Control group N = 42


Impairment in reality monitoring


Reality monitoring Prefrontal cortex activity

Improvement in reality monitoring that correlated with increased medial prefrontal cortex activity (related to improvement in social functioning 6 months later)

Control group N = 31 (schizophrenia) N = 15 healthy controls


Visual and auditory learning

CR consisting of visual, auditory and cognitive control

Visual memory, visual-spatial memory, auditory verbal memory, verbal and letter learning

Visual training strongly predicts visual learning but not auditory learning

Placebo control N = 14


Perceptual, memory and motor functions

Sustained and repeated training with no instructions, increasingly demanding tasks

Visual word, visual dot localization, motor processing

After training, most participants performed as well or better than best controls on tasks

Control group and healthy controls N = 22

Note. CR = cognitive remediation. NEAR = Neuropsychological Educational Approach to Remediation. TAU = treatment-as-usual, NET = Neurocognitive Enhancement Therapy.

Table 2

Training to improve sociocognitive deficits



Targeted deficits

Type of training

Measured variables


Control and samples


Social context appraisal

Social cognition enhancement training (SCET) and standard psychiatric rehab

Perceptual organization and sequencing in social contexts, emotion recognition

In SCET, some variables improved after 2 months, others after 6 months

Control group N = 34


Social cognition deficits

social cognition and interaction training (SCIT) and Control: coping skills groups

Emotion and social perception, theory of mind, attributional style, cognitive flexibility, and social relationships

Improved in all sociocogntive measures. Better self-reported social relationships

Control group N = 28


Emotion perception, attributional style, and theory of mind

SCIT and coping skills groups

Facial emotion identification and discrimination, social perception, theory of mind, attributional style and ambiguity, cognitive flexibility

Improvement in all aspects for participants in SCIT

Control group N = 18


Social cue recognition

Vigilance+memory training or vigilance alone

Social cue recognition

Better recognition of social cues in vigilance+memory

Control group N = 40


Emotional intelligence

Cognitive enhancement therapy (CET) and enriched supportive therapy (EST)

Emotional Intelligence

CET group improved in emotional intelligence

Control group N = 38


Learning and interpretation of social situations

Stimulus identification, interpretation of images and assignment of title

Sustained and selective attention, functional outcome, social perception

Improvement in all variables in therapy group, maintained at 6 months

Control group N = 18


Perception and interpretation of social situations

Integrated Psychological Therapy (IPT)

Social perception, attention, psychopathology and social functioning

IPT improved social perception. No differences in attention or symptoms between groups

Control group N = 20


Emotion perception

Emotion Management Training (EMT) or problem-solving

Emotion perception in self and others, social adjustment, coping strategies, psychopathology

EMT improved emotion perception, social adjustment and psychopathology. At 4 month follow up, gains maintained in social adjustment and psychopathology only

Control group N = 22


Social cognitive skills

Presentations, group practice and training exercises

Facial emotion identification, social perception, attributional style, theory of mind, speed of processing, attention/vigilance, working memory, verbal and visual learning, reasoning, problem-solving and social cognition

Improvement in facial affect perception only

Control group N = 31


Social cognitive deficits

Socio-cognitive skills training (SCST) Other conditions 1: Cognitive Remediation (CR) 2: standardm illness management skills training, 3: Hybrid treatment that combined elements of SCST and neurocognitive remediation

Emotional processing, social perception, attributional bias, and mentalizing

The SCST group demonstrated greater improvements over time than comparison groups in the social cognitive domain of emotional processing, including improvement in measures of facial affect perception and emotion management.

Control group N = 68


Theory of Mind (ToM)

Analyses and reasoning about social interaction scenes

ToM, symptoms, psychopathology, attribution

Slight improvement in ToM (not significant) in training group from first to second training session. No improvement in symptoms

Control group N = 14


Emotion perception

CR and computerized Emotion Perception intervention compared with CR only

Emotion recognition, emotion discrimination, personal and social performance (also neurocognition)

Combined CR with emotion perception remediation produced greater improvements in emotion recognition, emotion discrimination, social functioning, and neurocognition

Control group N = 59


Emotion recognition and ToM

Emotion and ToM Imitation Training and problem-solving

Psychopathology, symptoms, emotion recognition, ToM, neurocognition, flexibility, social functioning, attribution, neurophysiological activation

Training improved sociocognition (strongest was emotion recognition) and social functioning

Control group N = 32


Social cognition

State reasoning training for social cognitive impairment (SOCog-MSRT)

Theory of mind, Social understanding, Inference of complex mental states from the eyes Working memory, IQ

Improvement in ability to reason causally about false beliefs, to infer complex mental states from the eyes, and to intuitively understand social situations. However individuals with poorer working memory and lower premorbid IQ did not benefit

None N = 14


Social cognition


Emotion perception, attributional style and theory of mind

Improved emotion perception, improved theory of mind, and a reduced tendency to attribute hostile intent to others

None N = 17


Emotion perception, ToM and social skills

SCIT and Treatment-As-Usual (TAU)

Emotion perception, theory of mind, attributional style, social skills in role-play

SCIT+TAU improved emotion perception but improvements on theory of mind inconsistent

Control group N = 31


Visual attention and facial emotion perception

CR and repeated exposure

Emotion recognition

Improvements in pre-post- means for CRT and maintained one month post-training

Control group N = 40


Emotion recognition and social perception

Social Cognitive Training Program and TAU

Emotion recognition, psychopathology, social functioning, social perception

Training improved social perception between group but no improvement in emotion recognition

Control group N = 14


Emotional communication, (Perception of facial emotional expression)

Computerized emotion training program

Identification of emotions, differentiation of facial emotions, working memory

Compared to baseline significantly better at identification of facial emotions. No changes in differentiation of facial emotions and working memory

None N = 20


Social cognition and quality of life

Family-social-cognition and social stimulation (F-SCIT)

Memory, visual-spatial scanning, divided attention, inhibition, emotion perception, theory of mind, empathy, reasoning, attributional style, insight, social functioning, quality of life

F-SCIT improved social withdrawal, interpersonal communications, prosocial activities, independence/competence, theory of mind, emotion perception

Control group N = 52


Social and emotion perception


Emotion and general perception, attention, memory, executive functioning, visual processing, cognitive flexibility and interference

Improvement of emotion perception and executive functioning, other areas of neurocognition not affected

Placebo group N = 42



Deficits in facial affect recognition

Training of affect recognition (TAR) Controls groups: (TAU or CR)

Facial affect recognition, face recognition, and neurocognitive performance

Patients under TAR (but not CRT or TAU) significantly improved in facial affect recognition. Patients under CRT improved in verbal memory functions.

Control groups N = 77


Prosodic affect recognition, theory of mind

Training of Affect Recognition (TAR) and CR

Facial affect recognition, prosodic affect recognition, theory of mind, social competence in role-play

Larger pre- post- improvements on TAR for all variables

Control group N = 38

Note. SCIT = social cognition and interaction training. TAU = treatment-as-usual. CR = cognition remediation.

Table 3

Training to improve both neuro- and sociocognitive deficits




Targeted deficits

Type of training

Measured variables


Control and samples


Social competence (interest, affect, fluency, clarity, focus) and neurocognition

Cognitive Remediation (CR) and Functional Adaptation skills training (FAST) Control: FAST or CR

Functional competence, information processing, verbal fluency, working memory, executive functioning, verbal memory

The early-course group had larger improvements in measures of processing speed and executive functions, adaptive competence and real-world work skills. Verbal memory, verbal fluency and social competence did not improve

None N = 39


Cognitive deficits and functional competence deficits

CR + skills training CR + Treatment-As-Usual (TAU) Skills training + TAU

Cognitive performance (reasoning, problem solving, processing speed, verbal memory, working memory)Social competence, functional competence, real-world functional behaviour

CR produced robust improvements in neurocognition, but not after functional skills training.Social competence improved with both type of training. Functional competence higher and more durable with combined treatment. Functional competence and real-world behavior was more likely when supplemental skills training and cognitive remediation were combined.

Control group N = 107


Neurocognition, social cognition and symptoms

Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET) or Enriched Supportive Therapy (EST)

Neurocognitive ability and processing speed, social cognition and cognitive style, social adjustment and symptomatology

CET improved social cognition, cognitive style, social adjustment and symptomatology during first year and neurocognition benefits were after 2 years

Control group N = 58


Sociocognition: social and emotional perception, attention, concentration, verbal memory

One program including 1) CR for neurocognition + 2) Social Skills Training for sociocognition and TAU

Verbal and non-verbal memory, attention, memory, executive functions, verbal fluency, self-care, underactivity, slowness in task execution, social withdrawal, participation in family life, functional outcome

Better efficacy in all measures for combined program compared to usual program

Placebo group N = 60


Organization, comparison and organization, orientation in space, relations, social skills, integrative thinking

CR on specific areas: organization, social skills, categorization

memory, thought process and self-concept, functional outcome

Experimental group showed improvements in cognitive abilities and daily functioning, no difference in self-concept

Placebo group N = 58


Sociocognition and neurocognition

Cognitive enhancement therapy (CET) or enriched supported therapy (EST)

Processing speed. neurocognition, cognitive style, social cognition, social adjustment and symptoms

12 months: improvement in neurocognition and processing speed 24 months: Same as 12 months and increase in cognitive style, social cognition and social adjustment

Control group N = 121


Neurocognitive and social-cognitive deficits

Cognitive enhancement therapy (CET) Enriched supportive therapy (EST)

Processing speed, Neurocognition, social cognition, cognitive style, social adjustment

Significant effect of CET on measures of processing speed, cognitive style, social cognition, and social adjustment. Only the neurocognitive composite is not significant at 36 months follow-up compared to the two years follow-up.

Control group N = 106


Symptoms, social adjustment, social cognition, cognitive style, neurocognition processing speed

CR and enriched supportive therapy (EST)

Symptoms, social adjustment, social cognition, cognitive style, neurocognition processing speed

Improvement in all domains for schizoaffective and schizophrenia patients. Except for schizophrenia, no improvement in processing speed

Control group N = 58


Neurocognition and sociocognition

Computerized neuroplasticity-based auditory training and Social cognition training (SCT)

Auditory perception, emotion identification, social perception, theory of mind tasks, all measures of the MATRICS

Gains in neurocognition Gains in emotion identification, social perception, and self-referential source memory.

None N = 19


Cognition (attention, memory), social perception, cognitive differentiation

CR + psychoeducational programme Psychoeducational programme

Symptoms, psychosocial functioning, attention, memory, executive functioning

Improvement in psychosocial functioning, reduced symptoms (except negative symptoms) and Improvements were observed for 8 of the 10 cognitive measures. Only verbal long term memory and executive functioning (cognitive flexibility) did not improve

Control group N = 25


Cognitive differentiation, attention, memory and social perception


Symptoms, psychosocial functioning, attention, memory, executive functioning

Reduced in symptoms and psychosocial functioning, only verbal long term memory and executive functioning did not improve

Control group N = 25


Social cognition and problem solving, planning and memory

Cognitive-emotional rehabilitation (REC) and Problem Solving Training (PST)

Social and occupational functioning, working memory, psychomotor speed, verbal memory, executive functioning, verbal fluency, theory of mind

PST improved planning and memory, REC improved theory of mind and emotion recognition

None N = 24


Selective and Sustained attention, memory, conceptualization abilities, cognitive flexibility, social perception, verbal communication, social skills, and interpersonal problem solving

Cognitive remediation component of IPT

General attention, verbal memory, working memory, executive functions. Global social functioning, positive negative symptoms

Improvements verbal and working memory, improvements in negative and total symptom severity. Functional outcome mediated by improvement in cognitive domains

Control group N = 32


Selective and Sustained attention, memory, conceptualization abilities, cognitive flexibility, social perception, verbal communication, social skills, and interpersonal problem solving

Cognitive remediation component of IPT (IPT-cog) or computer-assisted cognitive remediation (CACR) Or rehabilitative interventions

Processing speed, working memory, memory in general, executive functioning, global social cognition

IPT and CACR improvements in all variables especially speed and processing and working memory and increase in functioning

Control group N = 90




Attention, executive functioning, memory quality of life, interpersonal relations, social abilities, autonomy

CR and Standard Rehabilitation Training (SRT)

Verbal + working memory, psychomotor speed and coordination, selective and sustained attention, semantic and letter fluency, cognitive flexibility, daily functioning, interpersonal relations

CR + SRT improvements on executive function, attention and daily functioning

Control group N = 86


Emotion recognition deficits in the neural mechanisms involved in emotion recognition

Auditory-based cognitive training (AT) (Brain Fitness), social cognition training or non-specific computer games (CG).

Recognition of negative and positive emotions Poscentral gyrus activity (neural region known to support facial emotion recognition)

Greater pre-to-post intervention increase in postcentral gyrus activity during emotion recognition Results indicate that combined cognition and social cognition training impacts neural mechanisms that support social cognition skills.

Placebo group N = 22

Note. CRT = cognitive remediation training, CBT = cognitive behavioral therapy, TAU = treatment-as-usual, MATRICS = Measurement and Treatment Research to Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia.

Neurocognitive deficits

We identified a total of 62 studies pertaining to neurocognitive training. Of these, 58 included randomized controlled trials or placebo conditions, while four had no control. At first glance (see Table 1), it appears that for people with schizophrenia drill and practice training is used more frequently to train neurocognitive deficits (i.e., drill and practice = 35 studies, 33 with controls and two without; drill and strategy = 27 studies, 25 with controls and two without).

Examining the drill and strategy studies, a pattern rapidly emerges when the methods of training are considered. Twelve of 27 studies used group therapy in their training rather than individual computerized training with therapist assistance. However, there does not seem to be a link between the method of training (individual or group) and the outcome measures. Though it is not the goal of our review, it is important to note that all articles with drill and strategy approaches to training reported between-group improvements of the targeted deficits. Furthermore, eight of the 17 studies with follow up measures at either three, four or six months also reported sustained gains in cognition [25, 32, 37, 41, 45, 47, 48, 50],[64].

Drill and practice studies most commonly used computerized tasks, done individually. However, there was more variety in the methods of training, for example, at least five studies used pencil-and-paper procedures [60, 67, 69, 73, 75]; though Lopez-Luengo utilized both pen-and-paper and audio] while five others used a combination of audio and visual tasks [62, 63, 77, 78, 83] to reduce the deficits. Furthermore, most studies using drill and practice methodologies (all except [61, 69]) reported between-group improvements in cognition between the experimental and control groups, at least for some measures.

The studies we analyzed targeted a variety of neurocognitive deficits - memory, attention/vigilance, reasoning, verbal learning - yet overall, across studies, no single deficit stood out as being resistant to implicit training. Therefore, it would seem that most domains of neurocognition respond well to drill and practice training, even though only seven studies had follow ups at six months, six [52, 55, 60, 63, 64, 82] confirming that the gains were maintained and one [65] showing that only the affect recognition benefits were not maintained at the 1-year follow up.

Sociocognitive deficits

In contrast to studies focusing on neurocognition, those aiming to improve sociocognitive deficits used mostly drill and strategy approaches (i.e., drill and practice = two studies with control groups; drill and strategy = 21 studies, 18 with controls and three without). Importantly, all studies included a variety of visual aids such as vignettes, Powerpoint presentations or videos of social situations. Furthermore, visual presentations and explanations by the therapist about the goal of the training were often done in group settings. This method allows modelling by the therapist but also incorporates group exercises and practice as well as role-plays.

Interestingly, for sociocognition, whether the training paradigm was drill and strategy (e.g. [97]) or drill and 210 practice (e.g. [107]), there was a general concern to assess whether remediation of a specific type of deficit would generate generalizable results, not only to functional outcomes but also to broader domains of social cognition such as Theory of Mind.

Studies that aimed to improve both neuro and sociocognition

It is more difficult to find a pattern in the types of training when the target deficits are broader and span across both neurocognitive (such as memory and attention) and sociocognitive domains (such as social perception and emotion recognition). However, most use drill and strategy paradigms that generally combine computer-assisted programs for neurocognition, and guided practice, modeling and role-play for sociocognition. There is also a mix of individualized and group approaches that seem, again, to follow the trend that neurocognition is trained individually while sociocognition is trained in groups, and this is true for both drill and practice as well as drill and strategy.


The purpose of this article was to review the type of training – whether drill and practice or drill and strategy – most often offered in clinical studies to people with schizophrenia to help overcome neurocognitive or sociocognitive deficits. We included articles with varying scientific value for both neurocognitive and sociocognitive training; nine of the 99 articles we reviewed had no control condition. However, since we are not presenting a thorough analysis of the efficacy or effectiveness of these training methods (see 14 for details, [22, 23]), we opted to include them for descriptive purposes. Although we found a variety of training modalities offered, some more behavioral, some using computer training, real-life situations, indirect training, etc., we were able to determine if a training paradigm was drill and practice or drill and strategy in nature, and which of these methods was used more frequently to improve neurocognitive or sociocognitive deficits. We also planned to describe the patterns and modalities used to train the targeted deficits (i.e., neuro- or sociocognitive).

In our literature search, we found that drill and practice training programs were used more frequently for improving neurocognitive deficits. Of the 62 studies we reviewed, 35 used procedures that mostly involved errorless learning, a type of training where the degree of difficulty of the task increases with the performance of the participant and where no conscious effort is necessary to improve. Studies using drill and strategy (n = 27) seemed particularly interested in the impact of the training on other variables outside of neurocognition, such as symptoms and quality of life. This was not the case for the drill and practice approaches. Another difference was that studies using drill and strategy training almost always measured executive functioning (n = 15), whereas studies using drill and practice training did not. However, we could not determine whether one specific domain of neurocognition was more easily retrained than another with drill and practice vs. drill and strategy procedures. Furthermore, most studies were of short duration and only a few had follow up measures (e.g., drill and strategy n = 8 [25, 32, 37, 41, 45, 4749]; drill and practice n = 7 [52, 55, 60, 6365, 82]. This could be improved upon in future studies, since it is difficult under these circumstances to decide whether the observed effects are maintained over time or not.

When attempting to put the findings on neurocognitive deficits into context, we wondered why drill and practice training would be used more often to retrain neurocognitive deficits. The answer may lie in the way these functions interact in our cognitive processes. Some domains, like attention and speed of information processing, seem more implicit by nature – the bottom-up approach. We could posit that these functions are not used consciously and a person would not need to inherently know “how” to use the functions; instead they would simply perform the task repetitively and unconsciously. However, this might imply that drill and practice procedures would only improve neurocognitive deficits, which might not be the case, as judged by the results reported in recent meta-analyses [14, 22]. Furthermore, since implicit learning has been reported as being generally intact in schizophrenia [84], some, like Fisher and colleagues [62], suggest that high levels of repetition (e.g., more than 1,000 rehearsals) and a high percentage of reward schedule (e.g.: 85%), will allow for neurological improvements. Yet, studies using drill and strategy procedures in their training methods also seem to generate consistent positive outcomes – the top-down approach. Of note, Wykes and colleagues [14] suggested that drill and strategy training include elements that are explicitly learned (through modeling, explanation or role-play – the “strategy”) but also elements inevitably linked with repetition (the “drill”) and considered implicit learning, which might explain why they are effective.

Tentatively, we suggest that since drill and strategy learning is thought to allow better integration of the rules and, thus, greater association between the various training elements [122], changes in cognition tend to occur over time. Blairy and colleagues [25], who also reported long-lasting improvements on memory and executive functions after explicit training, hypothesized that participants learned to bind different aspects of the experiment together and that it allowed for better consolidation in memory. Thus, at this time, we cannot draw a conclusion about whether certain domains of neurocognition respond better to one type of training over another. Further studies must be conducted, preferably comparing different forms of training with each other and adding follow up measures to assess whether the benefits of training remain stable through time.

Social cognition is considered by many researchers to have a strong relationship with positive functional outcomes [123, 124]. Concurrently, the meta-analysis by McGurk [12] reported that programs using strategy coaching (drill and strategy training) for sociocognitive deficits had strong effects on functional outcomes as well as on the targeted social cognition skills. Consistent with this, we found that drill and strategy training was more frequently used for sociocognitive retraining. It seems intuitive that learning and integrating a social skill requires that it be practiced in a social setting, which was consistent with our findings when analyzing the studies. Most used group settings, where participants received their training then performed and practiced the learned techniques with a therapist to correct the behavior and give feedback. Moreover, it was also reported that integrating rehearsals into the training yields greater functional outcome improvements [23]. Indeed, sociocognitive studies tend to measure social functioning or social adjustment following training more often than studies aiming to improve upon neurocognitive deficits. Yet, a growing field around implicit learning in social cognitive psychology [125] suggests that drill and practice or other forms of more implicit training might be useful for sociocognition as well.

The collection of studies of Bell and colleagues on work and social outcomes using drill and practice [53, 55] hint at the importance of generalizing the benefits of training to real-life situations, such as the ability to find and maintain work or to increase work productivity in the form of hours and money earned. However, both of these studies integrated the drill and strategy approach with a program of supported employment, creating a hybrid retraining program which has been efficient in the past [14]. Indeed, while improving cognitive deficits is commendable, functional outcomes are issues that should not be dismissed when considering the difficulties faced by individuals suffering from schizophrenia when trying to reintegrate the work force or create a social network.

We have also discovered that training programs usually target cognitive improvements “at large”, rather than specifically focusing on the individual deficits highlighted by the person’s profile, most likely to allow more people to receive the training without the need for specific neuropsychological or sociocognitive evaluations. We suggest choosing one type of training over another depending on the overall goal one is trying to achieve: drill and practice for precise deficits and drill and strategy to obtain general gains. More studies are needed to determine if drill and practice could be useful for sociocognition as well.

Furthermore, specific training methodologies seem to benefit specific domains of social cognition. For example, though it appears that Social Cognition and Interaction Training (even when including the family in the training sessions) improves Theory of Mind (ToM), group practices and Powerpoint presentations detailing the concepts of ToM did not improve ToM but did improve emotion recognition. We suggest that ToM is a more complex construct of sociocognition and requires more precise and detailed training than emotion recognition. Horan and colleagues [93] suggest that even defining the different concepts contained within ToM, such as appreciation of humour, is difficult and the training for it is more challenging. Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis of social cognition training in schizophrenia [21] also reported inconsistent effect sizes when ToM is targeted, suggesting that the key elements needed in the training for ToM must be better identified.

When the objectives of the training are broader, meaning that they aim to improve both neurocognitive and sociocognitive deficits through drill and strategy, the variables measured are also more varied and often include certain measures of functional or occupational outcome. Furthermore, these studies often tend to combine training with other types of intervention such as cognitive-behavior therapy, supportive therapy or occupational therapy.

Overall, our review summarizes the current state of research into cognitive training in schizophrenia. In neurocognition, drill and practice training is used more frequently and with a variety of different procedures such as auditory training [62] or target discrimination [74]. Tailoring the training to specifically address precise deficits might be one of the key benefits of drill and practice training. However, from the studies we evaluated, drill and strategy training was more easily generalized to all neurocognitive deficits. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis on the benefits of cognitive remediation in schizophrenia noted that this modality of training produces stable benefits on global cognition [14]. We suggest choosing one type of training over another depending on the overall goal one is trying to achieve: drill and practice for precise deficits and drill and strategy to obtain general gains in neurocognition.


There are a few limitations to our review. First, to reflect current trends, we included only studies published between 1995 and 2013, although interest in cognition remediation started as early as the end of the 1970’s [126]. Second, the fact that drill and practice or drill and strategy training can involve multiple strategies and training techniques (e.g., times eye tracking, computer programs, paper-pencil tasks, errorless learning, group learning, and various modalities of feedback) prevented us from describing them in detail and some of these specific strategies might explain differences in outcomes. Our goal was to describe what was being offered, not to promote one approach in particular. We also did not include studies described as “metacognitive”, a term that involves cognitive biases, at times social and/or neurocognitive, that are linked to the symptoms of psychosis [127] – for example, focusing on the cognitive bias of jumping to conclusions as linked to delusions. It is important to note that these types of training are not the only modalities offered to help overcome neurocognitive or sociocognitive deficits. Occupational therapy [128], social skills training [129], as well as certain forms of metacognitive psychotherapies [130] have also been documented.


Future research is warranted to compare both drill and strategy and drill and practice programs with one another under control and experimental conditions, as well as to highlight the benefits and limitations of each. This would help to identify which type of deficit would benefit more from which training or to isolate particular participant profiles that respond best to a specific training strategy. Moreover, we suggest that more focus be brought to targeting participants’ specific deficits to tailor the training to those needs. This would increase the potential impact and generalization to “real-life” situations, both in the context of neuro and sociocognitive retraining. Finally, we propose investigating the benefits of both neurocognitive and sociocognitive training in the context of comorbidity. It is well know that schizophrenia is often comorbid with social anxiety (in 30% of cases; [131]) and substance abuse (in 50% of cases; [132]), to name a few. It is conceivable that the interplay of those disorders could be a substantial challenge for training. Nevertheless, very few studies have examined the impact of these presentations and doing so would be of paramount importance as it could increase the ecological validity and generalizability of the results.


a*stands for truncation.



Special thanks to the research coordinator from our laboratory Ms. Melanie Lepage, for her invaluable help concerning the search of the various databases to retrieval our article. Further thanks to Dr. Caroline Cellard, for agreeing to jump in at the last minute, to help us improve the integrity and precision of our work.


This systematic and descriptive review was not funded by any research grants or funds.

Authors’ Affiliations

Psychology Department, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec, Canada


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