The symptomatic response to standard antipsychotic treatment was assessed over the first 4 weeks of hospitalisation in 39 patients with DSM-III schizophrenia, active phase, using the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS). While highly significant improvement was noted overall, 36% of patients either did not improve or worsened. Furthermore there was no diminution in the withdrawal-retardation factor of the BPRS. Patients experiencing their first admission to hospital, all with recent-onset illness, were then compared with patients who presented with a recurrence and had illness of at least 3 years duration. Despite similarities in overall response, withdrawal-retardation scores did not diminish in recent-onset patients, in contrast to multiple admissions who demonstrated significant improvement. These findings suggest greater responsiveness of negative symptoms to treatment in patients with longstanding illness, and possibly a poorer prognosis in first admission patients with deficit manifestations.