Health In Focus
  • Digital technology in cognitive testing would be an improvement over the traditional paper-based tests
  • Digital tests will help capture information more effectively
  • New research recommends use of modern technology for better outcomes

Cognitive tests are used worldwide to assess the thinking abilities of people that include memory, perception, reasoning and problem-solving skills. The test-takers' potential to use their mental process to acquire knowledge or solve problems could be measured using these tests. Traditionally cognitive tests are paper-based, standardized tests administered to a large group of people.

The research led by Dr Laura Germine of McLean Hospital and her colleagues, suggests that cognitive tests conducted using smartphones or laptops, as opposed to the traditional paper-based tests, would be a great improvement. The team has also presented a critical overview of modern testing technology that would help neuropsychologists comprehend and benefit from new methods.

Why Digital Testing?

Dr. Germine, the technical director of the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry and director of the Laboratory for Brain and Cognitive Health Technology said that "Digital technology could improve cognitive testing and might change the way we understand and measure brain functioning in health and disease."
Digital Neuropsychology Could be the Future in Cognitive Testing

She explained that using digital devices like smartphones for assessing neuropsychological functions or what could be referred to as 'digital neuropsychology' signifies "A critical and potentially game-changing set of methodologies that can get at aspects of cognitive functioning that were previously inaccessible. We can, for example, measure the way cognition might change or fluctuate over time, or be affected by different sorts of environments," she added.

Dr. Germine said that when conducted on digital platforms, these tests would have the potential to record even the subtlest and important information about test takers, the sort of information that would otherwise be impossible to capture in the paper tests. She was quoted saying "You can measure moment-to-moment changes as a person moves their finger across the touch screen. If that movement is not smooth, if there's jerkiness, we can get all that. We can record certain dynamics or 'micro behaviors' with digital assessment. It's amazing."

Dr Germine and her team also elaborate on how the digital tools allow for testing people's neuropsychological functions in their natural environments which is a very significant feature of the method. "Much of neuropsychological testing is getting at someone's optimal performance, determining how well could they do if you structured everything right." Digital testing, on the contrary, "Lets you ask the question of how well they actually do in their everyday environments" says Dr Germine.

About the Research

The paper which presents all these findings, published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist, is a result of 10 years of work that Dr Germine and team undertook to introduce digital tools in the field of cognitive testing. Their research has been funded by National Institutes of Health and other sources.

The team has also been associated with many projects that involved the use of digital tools for measuring neuropsychological functioning. They have worked to create one of the first online neuropsychological research laboratories in 2005.

Speaking about, a testing website launched in 2008, Dr Germine mentioned that "Is now being used across more than 150 research and education sites internationally, and more than 2 million people have completed tests on the site."

Word of Caution

Dr Germine and team advise clinicians and researchers to be cautious as they move forward with using digital neuropsychology, despite the success of their work. "Variations in devices, hardware, and software and how we interact with them could be in some ways greater than with paper and pencil, and taking a test on a laptop as opposed to a smartphone could yield different results," she pointed out.

Neuropsychologists considering using these methods should, "Maintain the right degree of skepticism and understand the scope of what is possible," advises the research team. Dr Germine adds that "The paper was meant to be a primer for clinical researchers and neuropsychologists and introduce them to these new opportunities in digital neuropsychology." Her team, she mentioned, "Also hope to help software and technology developers build the right tools that solve the right problems for neuropsychologists."

The Way Forward

Presently, Dr Germine and her team are involved in a large-scale project that aims at developing a nationwide infrastructure to perform neuropsychological testing using mobile devices. This is being done in association with the National Institute of Aging. About this project, Dr Germine said that "We're bringing together the brightest minds and innovators to create a standard set of tools for mobile devices that will help move the needle in our understanding of brain health and how neuropsychological functioning contributes to physical and mental disorders."

Reference :
  1. New Research Looks at the Promise of 'Digital Neuropsychology' - (

Source: Medindia

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