Neuropsychological Testing
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The Autistic Spectrum

Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychological processes.

It is strongly scientific in its approach and shares an information processing view of the mind with cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

It is one of the most eclectic of the psychological disciplines, overlapping at times with areas such as neuroscience, philosophy (particularly philosophy of mind), neurology, psychiatry and computer science (particularly by making use of artificial neural networks).

In practice neuropsychologists tend to work in academia (involved in basic or clinical research), clinical settings (involved in assessing or treating patients with neuropsychological problems - see clinical neuropsychology), forensic settings (often assessing people for legal reasons or court cases or working with offenders, or appearing in court as expert witness) or industry (often as consultants where neuropsychological knowledge is applied to product design). 

Definition source:


Clinical Neuropsychology 101 (An Introduction)


The clinical specialty of neuropsychology bridges interest in the biological functioning of neural cells in the brain, spinal cord, and body with the study of psychological disorders. The neuropsychologist uses objective, scientific techniques to link behaviors to underlying normal and abnormal biological (i.e., brain) processes. The clinical neuropsychologist studies patterns of abnormal behavior to infer the biological abnormalities that might be producing or contributing to those behaviors.


Traditionally defined, neuropsychology is the study of (and the assessment, understanding, and modification of) brain-behavior relationships. Neuropsychology seeks to understand how the brain, through structure and neural networks, produces and controls behavior and mental processes, including emotions, personality, thinking, learning and remembering, problem solving, and consciousness. The field is also concerned with how behavior may influence the brain and related physiological processes, as in the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology (the study that seeks to understand the complex interactions between brain and immune systems, and the implications for physical health).


Neuropsychology seeks to gain knowledge about brain and behavior relationships through the study of both healthy and damaged brain systems. It seeks to identify the underlying biological causes of behaviors, from creative genius to mental illness, that account for intellectual processes and personality. Clinical neuropsychology seeks such understanding, particularly, in the case of how damaged or diseased brain structures alter behaviors and interfere with mental and cognitive functions.


The neuropsychologist uses objective tools--neuropsychological tests--to tie the biological and behavioral aspects together. Through the use of tests, the clinical neuropsychologist is able to differentiate whether or not a behavioral abnormality is more likely caused by a biological abnormality in the brain or by an emotional or learned process.


If we presume that the brain is the starting point for why and how we process all mental information (not just cognitive, but interpersonal communications, self-concept, emotional reactivity, personality, learned responses, etc.), then in some aspect, all psychology is neuropsychology. Neurolinguistics, for example, is the study of how language shapes our self-concepts and our interpersonal communications. Neurodevelopmental psychology is the study of how behavioral and mental characteristics change with nervous system growth. Even psychological concepts of dreaming (and dream content), level of attention, and conscious experience are subserved by brain processes.


Neuropsychology is a structured, objective, and scientific discipline for peeking into individual brains by way of formally observing behaviors. Clinical neuropsychology seeks, ultimately, to understand the individual mind and brain (and its normal as well as errant behaviors). The discipline uses experimental and objective procedures to compare performance among persons with known differences in their biological brain structures (within the limited criteria currently available for defining these differences), and to search for the myriad sources of brain variance that produce individual differences in behavior. These sources include biological factors (e.g., genetic, diseases, and injuries) as well as psychological factors (e.g., learned behaviors and personality) and social factors (e.g., economics, family structure, and cultural values).


In the application of clinical neuropsychology, understanding the biological sources of individual differences, particularly, helps identify brain-based disorders in memory, personality, self-awareness (conscious experience), cognition, and emotional expression. Working backwards, then, from a look at abnormal behavior obtained using formal tests, reasonable inferences about brain disorders can be reached. Understanding these neurofunctional changes (i.e., abnormalities) as a result of brain changes (i.e., injury) defines parameters for current and future behavioral expectations in the lifestyle of the individual. Combined with additional understanding of biopsychosocial factors that coalesce into behavioral expression, the neuropsychologist can gain a comprehensive impression of what is normal or abnormal behavior. As our knowledge of recovery from brain injury improves, such understanding provides realistic expectations for remediation (restoration or adjustment) of disordered behavior.


Neuropsychological understanding is achieved through a comprehensive exploration of the neurophysiological foundation of behavior and seemingly infinite potential contributing factors. Everyone’s brain is wired differently, a product of native biological structure, past experiences, physical health, learned responses and personality, injuries and diseases, and a host of other factors. Clinically, it is the role of the neuropsychologist to sort out the factors that influence how the brain is working in order to understand disease expression, progress, and recovery.




Capsule Description of the Clinical Neuropsychological Assessment


Clinical neuropsychology is . . .


  • the study of how functional skills (e.g., memory, language, attention, reading, planning, visual-spatial analysis, problem-solving, and so forth) change and impact daily life as a result of brain dysfunction from injury and disease; 
  • the study of the interrelatedness of mental processes and how injury to one brain system may adversely influence the functioning of other, non-injured brain systems; 
  • the determination of brain diagnosis based, in part, on results of objective psychological tests sensitive to brain injury or disease, compared with normative performance of non-injured individuals on the same tests; 
  • the analysis of life-consequences of brain injury or disease and the processes by which people may recover from dysfunction and/or adapt to disabilities caused by permanent dysfunction.

 Neuropsychological assessment is . . . 


  • the administration of objective psychological tests and related procedures that are proven sensitive to the effects of brain injury; 
  • the selection of examination procedures that are specific for measuring functional changes due to impairment of specific cognitive domains; 
  • the integration of statistical and observational findings, and history, that may reveal a logically consistent pattern commonly seen with specific brain disorders; 
  • the process of tying together psychosocial history, personality, medical and physical health history, and mechanisms of brain injury in order to make sense of present mental functioning and clinical presentation; 
  • the determination of rehabilitation needs based on the measured strengths and weaknesses in functional domains and the lifestyle of the individual. 




Neuropsychological Screening for Brain Dysfunction


Normally, a neuropsychological examination explores in depth an individual's performance in a wide range of functional domains. There are instances, however, in the early phases of diagnostic exploration when the presence of a brain injury or disease is not compelling but when a suspicion reasonably might be considered. In such cases, along with other diagnostic procedures, a neuropsychological screening examination may be employed. A neuropsychological screening examination is a considerably abbreviated version of a full neuropsychological assessment, looking only at key sensitive areas of function.


The purpose of a neuropsychological screening examination is to determine if there is reasonable evidence, beyond initial clinical impression, for a diagnosis of brain injury or brain disease. Even though it is "screening," the examination must be definitive in this regard. To miss a neurological diagnosis on the basis of a screening examination could be quite unfortunate. Once a screening points to reasonable probability that a neurological condition exists, a full neuropsychological examination would be indicated to attain further diagnostic, prognostic, and treatment planning information. A referral for neurological examination would also be appropriate at this point.


Both screening and full neuropsychological examinations offer the opportunity for diagnosis of probability of brain dysfunction (as opposed to diagnosis of psychodynamic, personality, and/or emotional disorder not associated with neurological causes). For a screening examination, assessing probability of brain dysfunction is about as far as the diagnosis goes. A full neuropsychological examination, on the other hand, is necessary to delineate the wide variety of functional manifestations of brain damage or disease. Such detail is necessary to understand the life consequences of functional impairment (e.g., work, school, relationships, driving potentials, competency, and so forth).


Ability to understand personality, mental health, and behavioral characteristics of the individual when there is a brain injury requires a full neuropsychological examination. A broad range of functional domains must be evaluated. Also, designing a cognitive, rehabilitative, or psychological treatment program for a person with brain injury or disease requires comprehensive understanding of broad neuropsychological characteristics.


Formal neuropsychological testing is typically a relatively minimal component of a screening examination. The psychologist performing a screening examination may rely as much on history, behavioral observations, patterns of subjective complaints, and other history to establish a reasonable suspicion of an organic pathological state of the brain.


Screening neuropsychological examination is indicated when:


  • situational explanation for changes in emotions or cognitive functioning cannot be readily identified;
  • a medical or injury condition is suspected to have impacted brain health (for example, compromised circulation, chronically poor nutrition, or drug toxicity);
  • any relatively sudden, unexpected, and unaccounted for changes appear in mental or cognitive performance that impacts work or daily functioning;
  • gradual or sudden onset of unusual physical, sensory, or motor changes (an examination by a physician is always indicated in these instances, as well);
  • an individual fails to improve with special educational or therapeutic interventions designed to address a specific mental or cognitive problem. 

Full neuropsychological examination is indicated when:


  • screening examination is positive for likelihood of brain disorder;
  • a brain injury or disease is already known and comprehensive understanding of functional impact is desired;
  • a brain injury or disease is highly suspect and comprehensive neurofunctional characteristics are desired to complement neurological examination and diagnostic understanding;
  • comprehensive diagnostic and functional nature of brain injury or disease is necessary for rehabilitation and life-long planning;
  • comprehensive diagnostic, functional, and causative nature of brain injury or disease is necessary for forensic application;
  • complex diagnostic efforts require careful, objective, and often serial measurement of neurofunctional performance across cognitive domains. 

What Do Neuropsychological Tests Measure?


A neuropsychological assessment consists of administering tests that examine a set of more-or-less independent functional domains that are controlled by brain systems. While neuropsychologists agree on a general range of functional domains, some categories may be combined in different examinations. Nevertheless, neuropsychological assessment generally taps most of these areas of functioning that potentially may be impacted by brain disorders.


Attention and Processing Speed -- The capability to focus and sustain attention in mental activity is reflected in processing speed, simple accuracy in a sustained focus task, divided thinking among tasks, mental manipulation and control, and resistance to internal or external distraction.

Motor Performance -- The ability to perform gross and fine motor tasks, and the ability to perform purposeful tasks is of particularly significant interest in evaluating differences between the two sides of the body. Apraxia refers to the inability to perform a movement resulting from a neurological defect.

Sensory Acuity -- The ability to detect basic visual, auditory, and tactile sensations is critical to processing information at higher levels.


Working Memory -- Working memory is closely related to attention in that it involves keeping a limited amount of information active, frequently up-dated, and rapidly accessible for a brief time span. Most people have a working memory capacity of about seven items.


Learning and Memory -- The ability to encode new information, store information in a relational memory system, and retrieve information is measured in verbal/auditory and in spatial/visual modalities.


Intelligence -- Intelligence is a summary and multifaceted concept of general mental capability, reflecting the ability to comprehend, adapt to, and interact with the environment. Patterns among components of intelligence, those reflecting "hold" versus "don't hold" skills, provide a strong basis for inferring changes in current intelligence from inferred premorbid intelligence. Intelligence is not a specific domain but a composite of several domains. It is usually included in neurofunctional assessment, however, as a comprehensive functional index and, because it is multifaceted, may not reflect some forms of brain injury or disorder.


Language -- The ability to receive and express thought through various forms of symbolic manipulation is measured in various language tests. Receptive language is measured in reading and ability to comprehend spoken language. Expressive language is measured in writing and ability to formulate oral language.


Calculation -- Ability to manipulate mathematical symbols and perform operations may reflect skill level or loss of skills the individual once had. The specific nature of calculation difficulties can suggest specific areas of brain dysfunction.


Visuospatial Analysis -- The ability to receive, interpret, and apply meaning to visual information is measured in constructional skills and visual perceptual tests.


Problem Solving and Judgment -- Problem solving refers to advanced, higher-order information processing where knowledge is assessed and manipulated to find solutions to problems and make informed and reasoned judgments. Arithmetical thinking is a kind of problem solving.


Abstract Thinking -- The ability to use generalized information and apply it to specific situations involves abstract or conceptual thinking.


Mood and Temperament -- The ability of the individual to function in daily living situations depends on cognitive style, personality traits, beliefs, comportment, mental organization, and emotional status and variability.


Executive Functions -- Metacognition is the ability to achieve insight and self-awareness; to reflect on, initiate, evaluate, and regulate (activate and inhibit) thinking and behavior; to think flexibly; and to make decisions integrating judgment and feedback.



Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 Dennis P. Swiercinsky, Ph.D.

Text information on this web page is protected and may not be copied or distributed without the written consent of the owner.

Graphics on this site, unless noted otherwise, are in the public domain.  Date This Page Last Changed: 07/11/01





Neuropsych Testing

Tests Commonly Used In a Neuropsychological Examination

Neuropsychologists use scientifically validated objective tests to evaluate brain functions. While neurological examination and CT, MRI, EEG, and PET scans look at the structural, physical, and metabolic condition of the brain, the neuropsychological examination is the only way to formally assess brain function. Neuropsychological tests cover the range of mental processes from simple motor performance to complex reasoning and problem solving. In almost all objective tests, quantitative results are compared with some normative standard, including data from groups of non-brain injured persons and groups of persons with various kinds of brain injury. If the norms are based on age and educational achievement, valid comparison can be made between an individual's performance and that of persons in known diagnostic categories as well as persons who do not have a diagnosis of brain injury.

Qualitative assessment of neuropsychological tests provides a look at the processes an individual may use in producing the quantitative scores. Analysis of the pattern of performance among a large number of tests is key to a neuropsychological assessment. Thus, the selection of tests used in a neuropsychological test battery should sample a wide range of functional domains. The combination of objective scores, behavioral process observations, and consistency in emerging pattern of results, along with comprehensive clinical history, constitute the art and science of neuropsychological assessment. Most neuropsychologists select a unique combination of tests focused on the diagnostic and examination questions of interest for an individual. 

The following alphabetical listing includes some of the more frequently used tests employed in a neuropsychological assessment. Brief descriptions indicate the intent of each test . Some tests are included here that are not, strictly speaking, neuropsychological tests, but that may be used in a comprehensive examination. In order to keep test content and applications confidential to preserve their clinical usefulness, this information is restricted to general comments.

Test Name

Purpose of Test

Ammons Quick Test

This test has been used for many years to help assess premorbid intelligence. It is a passive response picture-vocabulary test.

Aphasia Tests (various)

Several aphasia and language tests examine level of competency in receptive and expressive language skills. (e.g., Reitan-Indiana Aphasia Screening Test)

Beck Depression or Anxiety Scales

These scales provide quick assessment of subjective experience of symptoms related to depression or anxiety.

Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test

This test evaluates visual-perceptual and visual-motor functioning, yielding possible signs of brain dysfunction, emotional problems, and developmental maturity.

Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination

Broad diagnosis of language impairment in adults.

Boston Naming Test

Assessing the ability to name pictures of objects through spontaneous responses and need for various types of cueing. Inferences can be drawn regarding language facility and possible localization of cerebral damage.

California Verbal Learning Test

This procedure examines several aspects of verbal learning, organization, and memory. Forms for adults and children.

Cognitive Symptom Checklists

Self-evaluation of areas of cognitive impairment for adolescents and adults.

Continuous Performance Test

Tests that require intense attention to a visual-motor task are used in assessing sustained attention and freedom from distractibility. (e.g., Vigil; Connors Continuous Performance Test)

Controlled Oral Word Association Test

Different forms of this procedure exist. Most frequently used for assessing verbal fluency and the ease with which a person can think of words that begin with a specific letter.

Cognistat (The Neurobehavioral Cognitive Status Examination)

This screening test examines language, memory, arithmetic, attention, judgment, and reasoning. It is typically used in screening individuals who cannot tolerate more complicated or lengthier neuropsychological tests.

d2 Test of Attention

This procedure measures selective attention and mental concentration.

Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System

Assesses key areas of executive function (problem-solving, thinking flexibility, fluency, planning, deductive reasoning) in both spatial and verbal modalities, normed for ages 8-89.

Dementia Rating Scale

Provides measurement of attention, initiation, construction, conceptualization, and memory to assess cognitive status in older adults with cortical impairment.

Digit Vigilance Test

A commonly used test of attention, alertness, and mental processing capacity using a rapid visual tracking task.

Figural Fluency Test

Different forms of this procedure exist, evaluating nonverbal mental flexibility. Often compared with tests of verbal fluency.

Finger Tapping (Oscillation) Test

This procedure measures motor speed. By examining performance on both sides of the body, inferences may be drawn regarding possible lateral brain damage.

Grooved Pegboard

This procedure measures performance speed in a fine motor task. By examining both sides of the body, inferences may be drawn regarding possible lateral brain damage.

Halstead Category Test

This test measures concept learning. It examines flexibility of thinking and openness to learning. It is considered a good measure of overall brain function. Various forms of this test exist.

Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Battery

A set of tests that examines language, attention, motor speed, abstract thinking, memory, and spatial reasoning is often used to produce an overall assessment of brain function. Some neuropsychologists use some or all of the original set of tests in this battery.

Hooper Visual Organization Test

This procedure examines ability to visually integrate information into whole perceptions. It is a sensitive measure of moderate to severe brain injury.

Kaplan Baycrest Neurocognitive Assessment

Assesses cognitive abilities in adults, including attention, memory, verbal fluency, spatial processing, and reasoning/conceptual shifting.

Kaufman Functional Academic Skills Test

A brief, individually administered test designed to determine performance in reading and mathematics as applied to daily life situations.

Kaufman Short Neuropsychological Assessment

Measures broad cognitive functions in adolescents and adults with mental retardation or dementia.

Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Battery

This is a set of several tests designed to cover a broad range of functional domains and to provide a pattern analyses of strengths and weakness across areas of brain function. The tests reflect a quantitative model of A. R. Luria's qualitative assessment scheme.

MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory)

This well-known and well-respected personality assessment is often used to accompany neuropsychological tests to assess personality and emotional status that might lend understanding to reactions to neurofunctional impairment.

Memory Assessment Scales

This is a comprehensive battery of tests assessing short-term, verbal, and visual memory.


This computerized assessment measures nine functional cognitive areas sensitive to brain injury

Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory

A self-report assessment of personality disorders and clinical syndromes. This is sometimes used as an adjunct instrument in comprehensive neuropsychological assessment.

Mooney Problem Checklist

This instrument helps individuals express their personal problems. It covers health and physical development; home and family; morals and religion; courtship, sex, and marriage.

Multilingual Aphasia Examination

This set of subtests provides comprehensive assessment of a wide range of language disorders.

North American Reading Test

This reading test is often used to help assess premorbid intelligence, for comparison with current intelligence as measured by more comprehensive tests.

Quick Neurological Screening Test

This is a rapid assessment to identify possible neurological signs, primarily in motor, sensory, and perceptual areas. 

Paced Auditory Serial Attention Test

Tests for attention deficits including concentration, speed of processing, mental calculation, and mental tracking. Sensitive for diagnosing cognitive impairment in individuals 16 and up.

Paulhus Deception Scales

This instrument measures the tendency to give socially desirable responses, useful for identifying individuals who distort their responses.

Personality Adjective Checklist

This self-report measure evaluate several personality patterns, primarily focusing on personality disorders

Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status

Designed as a brief, repeatable measure of cognitive decline or stability over time, appropriate for trauma, disease, or stroke.

Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test

This procedure evaluates the ability to learn word lists. It is the forerunner of other tests of verbal learning using lists of words.

Rey Complex Figure Test

This drawing and visual memory test examines ability to construct a complex figure and remember it for later recall. It measures memory as well as visual-motor organization.

Rey 15-item Memory Test

This test is used to evaluate potential for malingering in memory.

Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test

Analyzes aspects of visuospatial ability and memory in all ages.

Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test

Evaluates impairments in everyday memory related to real life situations.

Rogers Criminal Responsibility Scale

This instrument is designed to assess the impairment of an individual at the time a crime was committed.

Rorschach Projective Technique

This familiar inkblot test is used to evaluate complex psychological dynamics. Persons with brain injury have been shown to produce certain kinds of responses that can complement other tests and help to understand personality changes associated with brain injury.

Ruff Figural Fluency Test

This visual procedure complements verbal fluency tests in assessing ability to think flexibly but using visual stimuli rather than words.

Sensory Screening Test

Various procedures include the assessment of tactile sensitivity to various objects, the ability to recognize objects by touch, and the ability to detect numbers written on the hands by touch alone. By examining both sides of the body, inferences may be drawn regarding possible lateral brain damage.

SCL-90 (Symptom Checklist 90)

This checklist evaluates the individual's subjective complaints.

Shipley Institute of Living Scale

Comparison of vocabulary knowledge and ability to figure out abstract sequential patterns has been established as a sensitive measure of general brain functioning.

Stroop Test

This brief procedure examines attention, mental speed, and mental control.

Symbol Digit Modalities Test

Screening test for children and adults to detect cognitive impairment.

Tactual Performance Test

Assesses speed of motor performance, tactile perception, spatial problem-solving, and spatial memory in all ages.

Test of Memory Malingering

This test is used to evaluate potential for malingering in memory.

Test of Memory and Learning (TOMAL)

This test for children and adolescents measures numerous aspects of memory, assessing learning, attention, and recall.

Test of Memory Malingering

For ages 16-84, this visual recognition test helps discriminate malingered from true memory impairments.

Thematic Apperception Test

This projective test is most commonly used to examine personality characteristics that may aid in understanding psychological or emotional adjustment to brain injury.

Tower of London

A test for all ages, assessing higher-level problem-solving, valuable for examining executive functions and strategy planning.

Trail Making Tests A and B

These tests measure attention, visual searching, mental processing speed, and the ability to mentally control simultaneous stimulus patterns. These tests are sensitive to global brain status but are not too sensitive to minor brain injuries.

Validity Indicator Profile

A complex, computer-analyzed test for evaluating effort and motivation in test taking.

Verbal (Word) Fluency Tests (various)

There are a variety of verbal fluency tests in use. Each is designed to measure the speed and flexibility of verbal thought processes. (e.g., Controlled Oral Word Association Test; Thurstone Verbal Fluency)

Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale—III

This set of 13 separate "subtests" produces measures of memory, knowledge, problem solving, calculation, abstract thinking, spatial orientation, planning, and speed of mental processing. In addition to summary measures of intelligence, performance on each subtest yields implications for different neurofunctional domains. The set of tests takes about an hour or more to administer. The WAIS-III is often the foundation for a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment.

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—III

Comparable to the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, this procedure contains subtests that measure similar domains in children.

Wechsler Memory Scale—III

This set of 18 separate "subtests" yields information about various kinds of memory and learning processes. Summary memory indices are provided in addition to the individual scores of the subtests. The whole set of tests takes about an hour to administer. The WMS-III provides a comprehensive assessment of memory. It is co-normed with the WAIS-III and is usually used in conjunction with it.

Wechsler Test of Adult Reading

Provides estimate of pre-morbid intellectual functioning in persons 18-89, normed with the WAIS-III and WMS-III.

Wide Range Achievement Test

Provides level of performance in reading, spelling, and written arithmetic. The reading and spelling tests are often used in estimating premorbid intellectual functioning.

Wisconsin Card Sort Test

Similar in concept to the Category Test, this procedure also measures the ability to learn concepts. It is considered a good measure of frontal lobe functioning.

Wonderlic Personnel Test

This personnel test is not a neuropsychological instrument per se, but is used to help evaluate vocational abilities and potential for comparison with other neuropsychological tests in making practical prognostic decisions.

Word Memory Test

A validity procedure designed to detect response bias that might indicate exaggeration of impairment or symptom feigning.


National Academy of Neuropsychology

The Neuropsychology Center