Cognitive persistence: Development and validation of a novel measure from the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test

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The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) has long been used as a neuropsychological assessment of executive function abilities, in particular, cognitive flexibility or “set-shifting”. Recent advances in scoring the task have helped to isolate specific WCST performance metrics that index set-shifting abilities and have improved our understanding of how prefrontal and parietal cortex contribute to set-shifting. We present evidence that the ability to overcome task difficulty to achieve a goal, or “cognitive persistence”, is another important prefrontal function that is characterized by the WCST and that can be differentiated from efficient set-shifting. This novel measure of cognitive persistence was developed using the WCST-64 in an adult lifespan sample of 230 participants. The measure was validated using individual variation in cingulo-opercular cortex function in a sub-sample of older adults who had completed a challenging speech recognition in noise fMRI task. Specifically, older adults with higher cognitive persistence were more likely to demonstrate word recognition benefit from cingulo-opercular activity. The WCST-derived cognitive persistence measure can be used to disentangle neural processes involved in set-shifting from those involved in persistence.

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