INTRODUCTION: People with depression, anxiety, or psychosis often complain of confusion, problems concentrating or difficulties cognitively appraising contextual cues. The same applies to people with neurodegenerative diseases or brain damage such as dementia or stroke. Assessments of those cognitive difficulties often occurs in cross-sectional and controlled clinical settings. Information on daily moment-to-moment cognitive fluctuations and its relation to affect and context is lacking. The development and evaluation of a digital cognition task is presented. It enables the fine-grained mapping of cognition and its relation to mood, intrapersonal factors and context.
METHODS: The momentary Digit Symbol Substitution Task is a modified digital version of the original paper-and-pencil task, with a duration of 30 seconds and implemented in an experience sampling protocol (8 semi-random assessments a day on 6 consecutive days). It was tested in the healthy population (N = 40). Descriptive statistics and multilevel regression analyses were used to determine initial feasibility and assess cognitive patterns in everyday life. Cognition outcome measures were the number of trials within the 30-second sessions and the percentage of correct trials.
RESULTS: Subjects reported the task to be easy, pleasant and do-able. On average, participants completed 11 trials with 97% accuracy per 30-second session. Cognitive variation was related to mood, with an interaction between positive and negative affect for accuracy (% correct) (p = .001) and an association between positive affect and speed (number of trials) (p = .01). Specifically, cheerful, irritated and anxious seem to covary with cognition. Distraction and location are relevant contextual factors. The number of trials showed a learning effect (p < .001) and was sensitive to age (p < .001).
CONCLUSION: Implementing a digital cognition task within an experience-sampling paradigm shows promise. Fine-tuning in further research and in clinical samples is needed. Gaining insight into cognitive functioning could help patients navigate and adjust the demands of daily life.