Quantifying the Effects of Physiological Arousal on Cognitive Screening: Does an Exercise-Induced Increase in Heart Rate Impact Post-test Performance on Neuropsychological Screening Tests? An Application for Sports-Related Concussions

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Capstone

Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Kim Gorgens, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Michelle Wine, Psy.D.

Second Committee Member

Shawna Roberts, Psy.D.


Sports-related concussions


In recent years, significant interest has been directed toward of the study of concussions incurred during athletic events. Several guidelines have been established to rate the severity of these concussions, as well as to hypothesize a time period after which an athlete can return to play without risking further neurological damage and/or death. Due to increased awareness and interest in , on-site neuropsychological tests have been developed to not only assess the severity of the concussion when it occurs, but to assess any lingering symptoms that suggest the concussion's severity would make an individual's return to play hazardous. Currently, the assessment protocol involves pre-season baseline neuropsychological testing. In the event an athlete sustains a concussion, those results are compared with post-injury test results, and differences are attributed to the injury itself.The purpose of the present study is to determine whether or not any other variables could account for differences between pre­-season and post-injury test results. Specifically, this study looked at whether or not mild physiological arousal as the result of physical exertion has any significant effect on performance on two brief neuropsychological tests; the Digit Span Test and the Digit Vigilance Test The main findings of the current study indicate that not only does the Digit Span Forward Test appear to be sensitive to increased physiological arousal, or heart rate equal to or surpassing 145 beats per minute, but there appears to be a significant decline in cognitive performance on the Digit Span Forward Test that occurs with moderate (145 beats per minute) physiological arousal.For the Digit Span Backward Test, as well as the Digit Vigilance Test (both the errors and time conditions),there were no statistically significant differences in pre- and post-exercise scores.


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