Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the potential impact of effort in comparative studies assessing neurocognitive dysfunction in patients with and without a neurologic diagnosis.
Background: It was hypothesized that a subgroup within a group of patients with prominent neurocognitive complaints but without a neurologic diagnosis would have impaired performance on a task originally designed to detect malingering.
Method: We compared the neuropsychological performance of a group of 40 patients with a definite diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) with that of 67 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The Amsterdam Short-Term Memory Test, a forced-choice memory task, served as measure to detect submaximal effort. In addition, we administered a regular neuropsychological task generally considered to be sensitive for cognitive deterioration.
Results: Compared with the MS group (13%), a larger proportion of the matched CFS group (30%) obtained scores indicative of reduced effort. In contrast, the proportions of patients scoring below the cutoff value on a conventional neuropsychological test did not differ significantly (17% of MS patients and 16% of CFS patients).
Conclusions: The results obtained raise the question of to what extent abnormal test findings in the absence of documented neurologic impairment should be interpreted as a sign of cerebral impairment. The suggestion has been made to screen more often for biased results in comparative research studies so as to enhance valid interpretation of neuropsychological findings.