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Cognitive Functioning in People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Comparison Between Subjective and Objective Measures

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By S. J. Cockshell et al. • • January 2, 2014

Editor's Comment: This study found no difference between the cognitive performance of patients with CFS and healthy controls. However, the authors of the study make no mention of the time it took for people with CFS to complete cognitive tasks, which is one of the subjective complaints reported by ME/CFS patients. A number of studies have found that people with ME/CFS not only require more time to complete cognitive tasks, but expend greater effort ( Prasher et al., 1990, Cook et al., 2005, Lange et al., 2005, Constant et al., 2011). Curiously, one of these studies was published by Cockshell et al. in March 2013. 

By S. J. Cockshell et al. 


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between subjective and objective assessments of memory and attention in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), using tests that have previously detected deficits in CFS samples and measures of potential confounds.

Method: Fifty people with CFS and 50 healthy controls were compared on subjective (memory and attention symptom severity, Cognitive Failures Questionnaire, Everyday Attention Questionnaires) and objective (California Verbal Learning Test, Rey-Osterreith Complex Figure Test, Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test, Stroop task) measures of memory and attention. Fatigue, sleep, depression, and anxiety were also assessed.

Results: The CFS group reported experiencing more cognitive problems than the controls, but the two groups did not differ on the cognitive tests. Scores on the subjective and objective measures were not correlated in either group. Depression was positively correlated with increased severity of cognitive problems in both the CFS and control groups.

Conclusions: There is little evidence for a relationship between subjective and objective measures of cognitive functioning for both people with CFS and healthy controls, which suggests that they may be capturing different constructs. Problems with memory and attention in everyday life are a significant part of CFS. Depression appears to be related to subjective problems but does not fully explain them.

(PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Source: Cockshell, Susan J.; Mathias, Jane L. Cognitive Functioning in People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Comparison Between Subjective and Objective Measures. Neuropsychology, Dec 23 , 2013. doi: 10.1037/neu0000025 

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