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Neuropsychological Practice Effects in the Context of Cognitive Decline: Contributions from Learning and Task Novelty

  • Sommer R. Thorgusen (a1), Yana Suchy (a1), Gordon J. Chelune (a2) and Brian R. Baucom (a1)


Although cognitive decline is typically associated with decreasing practice effects (PEs) (presumably due to declining memory), some studies show increased PEs with declines in cognition. One explanation for these inconsistencies is that PEs reflect not only memory, but also rebounds from adapting to task novelty (i.e., novelty effect), leading to increased PEs. We examined a theoretical model of relationships among novelty effects, memory, cognitive decline, and within-session PEs. Sixty-six older adults ranging from normal to severely impaired completed measures of memory, novelty effects, and two trials each of Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 4 th Edition Symbol Search and Coding. Interrelationships among variables were examined using regression analyses. PEs for Symbol Search and Coding (a) were related to different proposed PE components (i.e., memory and novelty effects), such that novelty effect predicted Symbol Search PE (R 2 =.239, p<.001) and memory predicted Coding PE (R 2 =.089, p=.015), and (b) showed different patterns across stages of cognitive decline, such that the greatest cognitive decline was associated with smallest Coding PE (R 2 =.125, p=.004), whereas intermediate cognitive decline was associated with the greatest Symbol Search PE (R 2 =.097, p=.040). The relationship between cognitive decline and PE for Symbol Search was partially mediated by novelty effect among older adults with abnormal cognitive decline (model R 2 =.286, p<.001). These findings (a) suggest that PE is not a unitary construct, (b) offer an explanation for contradictory findings in the literature, and (c) highlight the need for a better understanding of component processes of PE across different neuropsychological measures. (JINS, 2016, 22, 453–466)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Sommer R. Thorgusen, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South 1530 East, BEH S Room 502, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. E-mail:


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