Blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals characteristically exhibit an overshoot (transient signal increase) at the beginning of fMRI task blocks. This onset transient has often been overlooked as an independent measure of neuronal activity, but it may represent unique functional processes. We examined onset transient responses in normal subjects and individuals with schizophrenia performing three cognitive tasks. These analyses revealed a regionally specific and task specific attenuation of the onset transient in individuals with schizophrenia during performance of a working memory task. Furthermore, this attenuation was often not accompanied by a corresponding population difference in the sustained response, and is missed through conventional fMRI analysis techniques. Relevance of these findings to both an interpretation of the onset transient and the pathology of schizophrenia are discussed.