It has been proposed that the loose associations characteristic of thought disorder in schizophrenia result from an abnormal increase in the automatic spread of activation through semantic memory. We tested this hypothesis by examining the time course of neural semantic priming using event-related potentials (ERPs). ERPs were recorded to target words that were directly related, indirectly related, and unrelated to their preceding primes, while thought-disordered (TD) and non-TD schizophrenia patients and healthy controls performed an implicit semantic categorization task under experimental conditions that encouraged automatic processing. By 300-400 milliseconds after target word onset, TD patients showed increased indirect semantic priming relative to non-TD patients and healthy controls, while the degree of direct semantic priming was increased in only the most severely TD patients. By 400-500 milliseconds after target word onset, both direct and indirect semantic priming were generally equivalent across the 3 groups. These findings demonstrate for the first time at a neural level that, under automatic conditions, activation across the semantic network spreads further within a shorter period of time in specific association with positive thought disorder in schizophrenia.