Guest Talk: Peter Bublak

19 July 2016
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TVA-based assessment of visual processing capacity: A promising diagnostic tool for neuro-cognitive deficits in multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most important neurological disease of non-traumatic origin in young adults. Cognitive impairment (CI) is a core feature of the disease, with between 40 to 65% of patients affected. CI can be present from the beginning and tends to increase in severity over time. It affects everyday functioning and quality of life and is regarded as an important predictor of disease course and functional outcome. Therefore, the identification of subjects at risk for cognitive decline is considered as a main task for current research, and finding assessment instruments for early detection of cognitive impairment as an urgent requirement.
There is a broad consensus that a large part of the MS-related CI can be accounted for by a general processing efficiency factor, as it is reflected by measures of processing speed like, e.g., the symbol digit modality test. We used whole report of brief letter arrays to analyse visual processing capacity based on a formalized ‘theory of visual attention’ (TVA). We asked (a) how the four TVA parameters perceptual threshold, iconic memory, processing speed and VSTM capacity are affected by MS; (b) which differences exist between early and late disease stages; (c) how TVA parameters are related to the main cognitive deficits found in MS patients; (d) and how the parameters are associated with MS-related brain pathology.

Peter Bublak's research interests refer to the neuropsychology of attention and working memory. In terms of patient groups, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple scelerosis are key research topics. In contrast to many other neuropsychological and neurological approaches to attention, Peter Bublak's investigations rests on state-of-art basic research, namely Bundesen's mathematical "Theory of Visual Attention" (TVA, 1990, 2015). TVA allows to derive from data of simple experimental procedures (e.g., partial report) various attentional and working memory parameters of patients and healthy adults in a reliable and valid manner.