Abnormal neuropsychological findings are not necessarily a sign of cerebral impairment: a matched comparison between chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis

Neuropsychiatry Neuropsychol Behav Neurol. 2000 Jul;13(3):199-203.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malingering / diagnosis
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Statistics, Nonparametric