The effects of aging, malingering, and traumatic brain injury on computerized trail-making test performance

David L Woods, John M. Wyma, Timothy J. Herron, E. William Yund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

The trail making test (TMT) is widely used to assess speed of processing and executive function. However, normative data sets gathered at different sites show significant inconsistencies. Here, we describe a computerized version of the TMT (C-TMT) that increases the precision and replicability of the TMT by permitting a segment-by-segment analysis of performance and separate analyses of dwell-time, move-time, and error time. Experiment 1 examined 165 subjects of various ages and found that completion times on both the C-TMT-A (where subjects connect successively numbered circles) and the C-TMT-B (where subjects connect circles containing alternating letters and numbers) were strongly influenced by age. Experiment 2 examined 50 subjects who underwent three test sessions. The results of the first test session were well fit by the normative data gathered in Experiment 1. Sessions 2 and 3 demonstrated significant learning effects, particularly on the C-TMT-B, and showed good test-retest reliability. Experiment 3 examined performance in subjects instructed to feign symptoms of traumatic brain injury: 44% of subjects produced abnormal completion times on the C-TMT-A, and 18% on the C-TMT-B. Malingering subjects could be distinguished from abnormally slow controls based on (1) disproportionate increases in dwell-time on the C-TMT-A, and (2) greater deficits on the C-TMT-A than on the C-TMT-B. Experiment 4 examined the performance of 28 patients with traumatic brain injury: C-TMT-B completion times were slowed, and TBI patients showed reduced movement velocities on both tests. The C-TMT improves the reliability and sensitivity of the trail making test of processing speed and executive function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0124345
JournalPLoS One
Volume10
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 10 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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