Age group and sex differences in performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery in children age 8–21
With the advancements of technology, neuropsychological assessments have been adapted to be done on a computer. Neuropsychologists and other clinical providers are interested in the effects of using these computerized neuropsychological assessments and whether there are any age or sex differences in their performance of them. Children are of particular interest, as the detection of mental health, neurological disorders, and developmental disabilities are starting at younger ages. This blog post discusses the age group and sex differences in performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery in children ages 8-21.
Three thousand and five hundred children ages 8-21 from the Philadelphia metropolitan area took part in the study. Children were not screened for any medical or psychiatric disorder. The participants performed a neurocognitive battery that was designed by the University of Pennsylvania. In the neurocognitive battery, participants were assessed on abstraction & mental flexibility, attention, working memory, word memory, face memory, spatial memory, language and analogical reasoning, nonverbal reasoning, spatial processing, emotion identification, emotion differentiation, age differentiation, sensorimotor processing speed, and motor speed. The assessment took one hour to complete and was administered using Macbook Pro laptops either in the participant’s home or at the research center.
In analyzing the performance of the neurocognitive battery, researchers had several findings. First, as children age, their accuracy and speed improve particularly for executive functioning, attention, and motor speed tasks. Memory is least impacted by age, however children get better at recognizing faces as they get older. In regards to sex, females perform better than males on attention, word and face memory, reasoning speed, and social cognition tasks. On the other hand, males performed better than females in spatial processing, sensorimotor, and motor speed tasks. These differences in regards to sex were observable in young children. Of particular interest in examining both the effects of age and sex, the researchers found that as females age they perform neurocognitive tasks more quickly but less accurately than males. These results may have implications for development and cognition to examine ways that clinical providers may work with males and females to address sex-specific cognitive needs throughout the lifespan.
What Does This Mean?
This study suggests that as children age, their performance on neurocognitive tests improves. By age 8, children have reached their peak memory capacity. Researchers have observed that sex differences are apparent in performance of neurocognitive tasks by early adolescence.
Parents will often have their child undergo neuropsychological assessment when they suspect their child may have cognitive impairment resulting from a medical condition. The results of this study suggest that examining performance of neurocognitive tasks should be done based on not only a child’s age group but also their sex as sex-differences do exist in the performance of neurocognitive tasks. Children may also need to be reassessed, as brain development and maturity may lead to improvements in different neurocognitive domains.