Performance Validity in Collegiate Football Athletes at Baseline Neurocognitive Testing

J Head Trauma Rehabil -


Abeare, C., I. Messa, C. Whitfield, B. Zuccato, J. Casey, N. Rykulski and L. Erdodi.



OBJECTIVE: To assess the prevalence of invalid performance on baseline neurocognitive testing using embedded measures within computerized tests and individually administered neuropsychological measures, and to examine the influence of incentive status and performance validity on neuropsychological test scores.

SETTING: Sport-related concussion management program at a regionally accredited university.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 83 collegiate football athletes completing their preseason baseline assessment within the University’s concussion management program and a control group of 140 nonathlete students.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional design based on differential incentive status: motivated to do poorly to return to play more quickly after sustaining a concussion (athletes) versus motivated to do well due to incentivizing performance (students).

MAIN MEASURES: Immediate Post-Concussion and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), performance validity tests, and measures of cognitive ability.

RESULTS: Half of the athletes failed at least 1 embedded validity indicator within ImPACT (51.8%), and the traditional neuropsychological tests (49.4%), with large effects for performance validity on cognitive test scores (d: 0.62-1.35), incentive status (athletes vs students; d: 0.36-1.15), and the combination of both factors (d: 1.07-2.20) on measures of attention and processing speed.

CONCLUSION: Invalid performance on baseline assessment is common (50%), consistent across instruments (ImPACT or neuropsychological tests) and settings (one-on-one or group administration), increases as a function of incentive status (risk ratios: 1.3-4.0) and results in gross underestimates of the athletes’ true ability level, complicating the clinical interpretation of the post-injury evaluation and potentially leading to premature return to play.

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