Skip to main content Accessibility help

Short-Term Cognitive Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral ECT

  • Michael Alan Taylor (a1) and Richard Abrams (a1)


We administered an extensive battery of primarily non-memory neuropsychological tasks to 37 patients with endogenous depression, randomly assigned to either bilateral (B/ECT) or unilateral (U/ECT) electroconvulsive therapy. Testing was done prior to therapy and again shortly after the sixth induced seizure. The two groups did not significantly differ in cognitive impairment, either before or after treatment, and within-group cognitive changes following treatment were small. We conclude that neither B/ECT nor U/ECT substantially worsen non-memory cognitive performance in depressed patients, yet both result in significant clinical improvement.


Corresponding author



Hide All
Abrams, R., Fink, M., Dornbush, R. L., Feldstein, S., Volavka, J. & Roubicek, J. (1972) Unilateral and bilateral electroconvulsive therapy: Effects on depression, memory and the electroencephalogram. Archives of General Psychiatry, 27, 8891.
Abrams, R., Fink, M., Dornbush, R. L., Feldstein, S., Volavka, J. & Roubicek, J., Taylor, M. A., Faber, R., Ts'o, T., Williams, R. A. & Almy, G. (1983) Unilateral versus bilateral ECT: The controversy continues. In Treatment of Depression: Old Controversies and New Approaches (eds Clayton, P. J. and Barrett, J. E.). New York: Raven Press.
Berenbaum, S. A. & Taylor, M. A. (1982) Non-memory higher cognitive function and electroconvulsive treatment. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 18, 4448.
Dornbush, R., Abrams, R. & Fink, M. (1971) Memory changes after unilateral and bilateral convulsive therapy (ECT). British Journal of Psychiatry, 119, 7578.
Folstein, M. F., Folstein, S. W. & McHugh, P. R. (1975) “Mini Mental State”: A practical method of grading the cognitive state of patients for the clinician. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 12, 189198.
Golden, C. J. (1977) Validity of the Halstead-Reitan neuropsychological battery in a mixed psychiatric and brain-injured population. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 10431051.
Golden, C. J. (1980) Cerebral ventricular size and neuropsychological impairment in young chronic schizophrenics; measurement by the Luria-Nebraska neuropsychological battery. Archives of General Psychiatry, 37, 619623.
Golden, C. J. (1982a) Item Interpretation of the Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Battery. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
Golden, C. J. (1982b) Cross-validation of the ability of the Luria-Nebraska neuropsychological battery to differentiate chronic schizophrenics with and without ventricular enlargement. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 50, 8795.
Golden, C. J. Hammeke, T. A. & Purisch, A. D. (1978) Diagnostic validity of a standardized neuropsychological battery derived from Luria's neuropsychological tests. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46, 12581265.
Heilman, K. M. & Valenstein, E. (eds) (1979) Clinical Neuropsychology, New York: Oxford University Press.
Heimburger, R. F. & Reitan, R. M. (1961) Easily administered written test for lateralizing brain lesions. Journal of Neurosurgery, 18, 301302.
Horan, M., Ashton, R. & Minto, J. (1980) Using ECT to study hemispheric specialization for sequential processes. British Journal of Psychiatry, 137, 119125.
Kimura, D. (1966) Dual functional asymmetry of the brain in visual perception. Neuropsychologia, 4, 275285.
Kimura, D. (1969) Spatial localization in left and right visual fields. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 23, 445458.
Kolb, B. & Whishaw, I. Q. (1980) Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology, Freeman, San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Kronfol, Z., Hamsher, K. deS, Digre, K. & Waziri, R. (1978) Depression and hemisphere functions: Changes associated with unilateral ECT. British Journal of Psychiatry, 132, 560567.
Lancaster, N. P., Steinert, R. R. & Frost, I. (1958) Unilateral electroconvulsive therapy. Journal of Mental Science, 104, 221227.
Lewis, G. P., Golden, C. J., Moses, J. A. Jr., Osmon, D. C., Purisch, A. D. & Hammeke, T. A. (1978) Localization of cerebral dysfunction with a standardized version of Luria's Neuropsychological Battery. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 47, 10031019.
Luria, A. (1973) The Working Brain, New York: Basic Books.
Malloy, P. & Webster, J. (1981) Detecting mild brain impairment using the Luria-Nebraska neuropsychological battery. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 49, 768770.
McAndrew, J., Berkey, B & Matthews, C. (1967) The effects of dominant and non-dominant unilateral ECT as compared to bilateral ECT. American Journal of Psychiatry, 124, 483490.
Price, T. (1982) Short- and long-term cognitive effects of ECT. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 18, 91101.
Quitkin, F., Rifkin, A. & Klein, D. F. (1979) Neurologic soft signs in schizophrenia and character disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33, 845853.
Reitan, R. M. (1955) An investigation of the validity of Halstead's measures of biological intelligence. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 73, 2835.
Russell, E. W., Neuringer, C. & Goldstein, G. (1970) Assessment of Brain Damage: A Neuropsychological Key Approach, New York: Wiley-Interscience.
Shelley, C. & Goldstein, G. (1983) Discrimination of chronic schizophrenia and brain damage with the Luria-Nebraska neuropsychological battery: A partially successful replication. Clinical Neuropsychology, 5, 8285.
Small, I. F., Small, J. G., Milstein, V. & Sharpley, P. (1973) Interhemispheric relationships with somatic therapy. Diseases of the Nervous System, 34, 170177.
Sperry, R. W. (1975) Lateral specialization in the surgically separated hemispheres. In Hemisphere Specialization and Interaction (ed. Milner, B.). Cambridge, The MIT Press.
Squire, L. (1982) Neuropsychological effects of ECT. In Electroconvulsive Therapy: Biological Foundations and Clinical Applications (eds Abrams, R. & Essman, W. B.). New York: Spectrum Publications.
Taylor, M. A. & Abrams, R. (1984) Cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 141, 196201.
Taylor, M. A. & Abrams, R., Faber, R & Almy, G. (1980) Cognitive tasks in the mental status examination. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 168, 167170.
Tsai, L. & Tsuang, M. T. (1979) “Mini Mental State” and computerized tomography. American Journal of Psychiatry, 136, 436439.
Weeks, D., Freeman, C. P. L. & Kendell, R. E. (1980) ECT: III. Enduring cognitive deficits? British Journal of Psychiatry, 137, 2637.
Wheeler, C. & Reitan, R. M. (1962) Presence and laterality of brain damage predicted from responses to a short aphasia screening test. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 15, 783799.

Short-Term Cognitive Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral ECT

  • Michael Alan Taylor (a1) and Richard Abrams (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Short-Term Cognitive Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral ECT

  • Michael Alan Taylor (a1) and Richard Abrams (a1)
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *