Schizophrenia is a chronic psychiatric disorder with a heterogeneous genetic and neurobiological background that influences early brain development, and is expressed as a combination of psychotic symptoms — such as hallucinations, delusions and disorganization — and motivational and cognitive dysfunctions. The mean lifetime prevalence of the disorder is just below 1%, but large regional differences in prevalence rates are evident owing to disparities in urbanicity and patterns of immigration. Although gross brain pathology is not a characteristic of schizophrenia, the disorder involves subtle pathological changes in specific neural cell populations and in cell–cell communication. Schizophrenia, as a cognitive and behavioural disorder, is ultimately about how the brain processes information. Indeed, neuroimaging studies have shown that information processing is functionally abnormal in patients with first-episode and chronic schizophrenia. Although pharmacological treatments for schizophrenia can relieve psychotic symptoms, such drugs generally do not lead to substantial improvements in social, cognitive and occupational functioning. Psychosocial interventions such as cognitive–behavioural therapy, cognitive remediation and supported education and employment have added treatment value, but are inconsistently applied. Given that schizophrenia starts many years before a diagnosis is typically made, the identification of individuals at risk and those in the early phases of the disorder, and the exploration of preventive approaches are crucial.