Background Visuospatial working memory is not a unitary sketch pad but comprises independent dimensions of target distance and direction and at least two levels of detail (fine-grained and category level). The aim of this study was to examine these multiple aspects of encoding in patients with schizophrenia using a modified delayed response task.Method: 42 patients with schizophrenia and 48 healthy controls pointed, as accurately as possible from a fixed starting position, to the visual location of target stimuli presented to a touch-sensitive screen. An adaptive staircase procedure was used to equate stimulus duration for each individual. Encoding accuracy and maintenance of distance (mm) and direction (degrees) information was examined following a 0-second (immediate) or 4-second (unfilled) delay. Analyses utilized both absolute (unsigned) and signed data.Results: The results showed that the average duration required to detect a target was significantly longer in patients than controls. When stimulus duration was equated, (a) the absolute accuracy of distance and direction responses was not significantly different between groups at 0-second delay but was significantly reduced at 4-second delay in patients with schizophrenia, and (b) signed direction errors at 4-second delay were significantly different between groups at stimulus angles greater than 90 degrees.Conclusions: The findings challenge previous suggestions of deficits in fine-grained encoding of spatial information in schizophrenia but confirm a difficulty maintaining both direction and distance details in working memory. Imprecision in spatial memory in schizophrenia also introduced greater bias from category level (prior) representations, especially in left hemi-space. Crown Copyright (C) 2007 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.