Behavioral and fMRI evidence of the differing cognitive load of domain-specific assessments

Howard, S. J., Burianova, H., Ehrich, J., Kervin, L., Calleia, A., Barkus, E., Carmody, J. and Humphry, S. (2015) Behavioral and fMRI evidence of the differing cognitive load of domain-specific assessments. Neuroscience, 297 38-46. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.03.047

Author Howard, S. J.
Burianova, H.
Ehrich, J.
Kervin, L.
Calleia, A.
Barkus, E.
Carmody, J.
Humphry, S.
Title Behavioral and fMRI evidence of the differing cognitive load of domain-specific assessments
Journal name Neuroscience   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1873-7544
Publication date 2015-06-05
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.03.047
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 297
Start page 38
End page 46
Total pages 9
Place of publication Kidlington, Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Elsevier
Collection year 2016
Language eng
Abstract Standards-referenced educational reform has increased the prevalence of standardized testing; however, whether these tests accurately measure students' competencies has been questioned. This may be due to domain-specific assessments placing a differing domain-general cognitive load on test-takers. To investigate this possibility, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to identify and quantify the neural correlates of performance on current, international standardized methods of spelling assessment. Out-of-scanner testing was used to further examine differences in assessment results. Results provide converging evidence that: (a) the spelling assessments differed in the cognitive load placed on test-takers; (b) performance decreased with increasing cognitive load of the assessment; and (c) brain regions associated with working memory were more highly activated during performance of assessments that were higher in cognitive load. These findings suggest that assessment design should optimize the cognitive load placed on test-takers, to ensure students' results are an accurate reflection of their true levels of competency.
Keyword Assessment
Cognitive load
Educational neuroscience
Standardized testing
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2016 Collection
Centre for Advanced Imaging Publications
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