The value of instability: an investigation of intrasubject variability in brain activity among obese adolescent girls

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The present study investigated the value of intrasubject variability (ISV) as a metric for revealing differences in cognition and brain activation associated with an obese versus lean body mass.

METHODS:

Ninety-six adolescents with a lean body mass (body mass index (BMI) percentile = 5-85), and 92 adolescents with an obese body mass (BMI percentile ≥ 95), performed two tasks (Stroop and Go/No-Go) challenging response inhibition skills. The s.d. values and averages of their reaction time and P300 electroencephalographic responses to task stimuli were computed across trials.

RESULTS:

During the Go/No-Go task, the reaction times of subjects with an obese body mass were more variable than those of their lean body mass peers. Accompanying the greater ISV in reaction times was a group difference in P300 amplitude ISV in the opposite direction across both tasks. The effect sizes associated with these group differences in ISV were marginally greater than the effect sizes for the comparisons of the group means.

CONCLUSIONS:

ISV may be superior to the mean as a tool for differentiating groups without significant cognitive impairment. The co-occurrence of reduced ISV in P300 amplitude and elevated ISV in reaction time may indicate a constraint among obese adolescent girls in the range of information processing strategies and neural networks that can compete to optimize response output. It remains to be determined whether this decrement in neural plasticity has implications for their problem solving skills as well as their response to weight management interventions.

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