Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) complain that they have difficulties with
concentration and memory but studies to date have not found consistent objective evidence of
performance deficits. Two groups of CFS patients, depressed and non-depressed, and healthy
controls, were asked about concentration problems in general and specifically when reading. CFS
subjects were more likely than controls to report that they had concentration problems when
reading, that they needed to re-read text and that they failed to take in what they were reading.
Subjects then performed a task in which their reading behaviour and text recall was measured.
While all CFS subjects complained of general cognitive failures and of difficulties with reading, only
depressed CFS subjects recalled significantly less of the text than controls. Severity of complaints
about reading problems was not related to amount of text recalled, but was related to severity of
depressed mood. However, subjects were able to evaluate accurately their ability to remember the
text immediately after reading it and before being tested for recall. Additionally, subjects performed
a paired-associate learning task on which no significant differences between the subject groups was
found. It is concluded that deficits in cognitive functioning in CFS patients are more likely to be
found on naturalistic than on laboratory tasks.