Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-wzw2p Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-28T21:39:07.413Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

83 Uncertainty Representation in Mild Cognitive Impairment: Comparing Internally Cued versus Externally Driven Uncertainty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2023

Laura E Korthauer*
Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA. Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA.
Elena K Festa
Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Zachary Gemelli
Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, USA.
Mingjian He
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA, USA
William C Heindel
Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Correspondence: Laura Korthauer, Alpert Medical School of Brown University,
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Core share and HTML view are not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

Choice response time (RT) increases linearly with increasing information uncertainty, which can be represented externally or internally. Using a card-sorting task, we previously showed that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) dementia patients were more impaired relative to cognitively normal older adults (CN) under conditions that manipulated internally cued rather than externally driven uncertainty, but this study was limited by a between-subjects design that prevented us from directly comparing the two uncertainty conditions. The objective of this study was to assess internally cued and externally driven cued uncertainty representations in CN and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients.

Participants and Methods:

Older participants (age > 60 years; N=49 CN, N=33 MCI patients) completed a card-sorting task that separately manipulated externally cued uncertainty (i.e., the number of sorting piles with equal probability of each stimulus type) or internally cued uncertainty (i.e., the probability of each stimulus type with fixed number of sorting piles) at three different uncertainty loads (low, medium, high). Exploratory analyses separated MCI patients by etiology into possible/probable cortical neurodegenerative process (i.e., AD, frontotemporal dementia; N=13) or nonneurodegenerative process (i.e., vascular, psychiatric, sleep, medication effect; N=20).


CN and MCI patients maintained a high level of accuracy on both tasks (M accuracy > .94 across conditions). MCI patients performed more slowly than CN on the externally and internally cued tasks, and both groups showed a significant positive association between uncertainty load and RT (p’s < .05). There was a group x load x uncertainty condition interaction (p = .05). For CNs, the slope of the linear association between load and RT was significantly steeper in the externally cued compared to internally cued condition. For MCI patients in contrast, RTs increased with load to a similar degree in both conditions. Exploratory analyses showed the MCI-neurodegenerative patients were significantly slower than MCI-nondegenerative and CN (p < .001). While the group x load x condition interaction was significant when comparing all three groups (p < .05), this was driven by the differences between CN and MCI patients described above; the MCI-neurodegenerative and non-neurodegenerative groups did not significantly differ in the strength of the RT-load association between the externally or internally cued conditions.


Overall, CN participants showed greater RT slowing with increasing load of externally driven than internally cued uncertainty. Though they were slower than CNs, MCI patients (even those with a possible/probable cortical neurodegenerative condition) were able to accurately perform an internally cued uncertainty task and did not show differential slowing compared to an externally driven task. This provides preliminary evidence that internal representations of probabilistic information are intact in patients with MCI due to a neurodegenerative condition, meaning they may not depend on cortical processes. Future work will increase the sample sizes of the MCI-neurodegenerative and non-degenerative groups.

Poster Session 04: Aging | MCI
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2023