Executive dysfunction affects word list recall performance: Evidence from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases

Monica Consonni, Stefania Rossi, Chiara Cerami, Alessandra Marcone, Sandro Iannaccone, Stefano Francesco Cappa, Daniela Perani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) is widely used in clinical practice to evaluate verbal episodic memory. While there is evidence that RAVLT performance can be influenced by executive dysfunction, the way executive disorders affect the serial position curve (SPC) has not been yet explored. To this aim, we analysed immediate and delayed recall performances of 13 non-demented amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients with a specific mild executive dysfunction (ALSci) and compared their performances to those of 48 healthy controls (HC) and 13 cognitively normal patients with ALS. Moreover, to control for the impact of a severe dysexecutive syndrome and a genuine episodic memory deficit on the SPC, we enrolled 15 patients with a diagnosis of behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and 18 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease (AD). Results documented that, compared to cognitively normal subjects, ALSci patients had a selective mid-list impairment for immediate recall scores. The bvFTD group obtained low performances with a selectively increased forgetting rate for terminal items, whereas the AD group showed a disproportionately large memory loss on the primary and middle part of the SPC for immediate recall scores and were severely impaired in the delayed recall trial. These results suggested that subtle executive dysfunctions might influence the recall of mid-list items, possibly reflecting deficiency in control strategies at retrieval of word lists, whereas severer dysexecutive syndrome might also affect the recall of terminal items possibly due to attention deficit or retroactive interference.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuropsychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2015


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia
  • Rey auditory verbal learning test
  • Serial position curve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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