Affective Disturbance and Neurocognitive Variability in College Athletes

Arch Clin Neuropsychol - 2023

Thomas, G. A., Bradson, M. L., Riegler, K. E. and Arnett, P. A..



OBJECTIVE: Research on the neurocognitive effects of comorbid mood/anxiety disturbance in college athletes is limited. Previous research found that athletes with comorbid depression/anxiety performed worse on measures of attention/processing speed (A/PS) at baseline compared to healthy controls. However, this work solely examined mean performance. The current study expands upon this work by examining intraindividual variability (IIV) in relation to affective disturbance. METHOD: 835 (M = 624, F = 211) collegiate athletes completed baseline neuropsychological testing. Athletes were separated into four groups (Healthy Mood [n = 582], Depression Alone [n = 137], Anxiety Alone [n = 54], and Co-Occurring Depression/Anxiety [n = 62]) based on self-reported anxiety and depression. IIV was examined globally and within composites of A/PS and memory via intraindividual standard deviation, with higher scores indicating greater variability. RESULTS: Linear regression results revealed that the Co-Occurring Depression/Anxiety group exhibited greater variability within the memory composite compared to the Healthy Mood group, as well as the Depression Alone and Anxiety Alone groups. The Depression Alone and Anxiety Alone groups did not differ from the Healthy Mood group on memory IIV. None of the groups differed on A/PS or global IIV. CONCLUSIONS: Athletes with co-occurring depression/anxiety demonstrated greater variability in performance on memory tasks. Greater dispersion is predictive of greater cognitive decline following concussion; therefore, it is important that neuropsychological performance is interpreted beyond measures of central tendency. These findings also highlight the importance of having baseline data available for athletes with affective disturbance, as these factors may influence performance, place athlete at risk for poorer outcomes, and skew future post-concussion comparisons.

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