Variability in reaction time as a measure of motivation in neuropsychological testing at baseline

Open Access
Hauser, Briana Tayler
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Peter Andrew Arnett, Thesis Supervisor
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Honors Advisor
  • concussion
  • sports-related concussion
  • mTBI
  • neuropsychology
  • motivation
  • reaction time
Recent research has shed light on the gap in knowledge in understanding concussion as a form of traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Especially concerning is the significant prevalence of these injuries in athletics. As neuropsychological assessment has become an increasingly important part of return-to-play decisions, it is necessary that the results of testing be evaluated with the highest validity possible. Research has suggested that motivation can interfere with performance and requires consideration in interpretation of results. Variability has been suggested as a possible marker of test motivation in the context of concussion batteries. This study aimed to use variability in reaction time on a single test as a measure of motivation on baseline testing in a student athlete population at the collegiate level. Participants were divided into three motivation groups based on a subjective motivation measure: “Low”, “Moderate”, and “High”. The results of a multivariate analysis show a significant overall effect (p = .034) of motivation group on variability in reaction time such that lower motivation was associated with greater variability. This is important in considering the interpretation of neuropsychological testing data in a sports concussion context. If an individual is less motivated to perform well, their results will not accurately reflect their true cognitive functioning. Further, variability in performance may also be suggestive of variability in motivation. In this case, it would be important to consider how measures of acute motivation on tasks could help in the interpretation of testing outcomes. With more valid interpretations of an athlete’s relative functioning post-injury, we can make return-to-play decisions with greater confidence.