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Improvement in response times for simple and complex tasks after electroconvulsive therapy.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Schwabachanlage 6, 91054 Erlangen, Germany.



Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has gone through fundamental changes since its introduction in 1938 and has developed from a frightening and distrusted procedure into an effective and safe treatment for people with severe psychiatric disorders. This study suggests that ECT has an effect on the response times of simple and complex tasks.


We had two groups. The first group consisted of eight patients suffering from severe therapy-resistant depression. They were treated with ECT. The second group consisted of eight sex- and age-matched persons who were treated conventionally with antidepressive medication. The authors measured auditory and visual response times of both simple and complex tasks in run A and run B on two different days. In the ECT group, the first measurement took place 1 day before a session of ECT, the second 3 h following a session of ECT. In the depressive control group, the two measurements were performed on two different days but at most within 4 days.


The response times of the depressive subjects treated with ECT are prolonged in both run A and run B compared to those of the depressive control group. The response times in run B are reduced compared to run A on the whole. However the reduction is stronger in the ECT group than the one taking place in the depressive control group between the two runs.


The considerable decrease of the response times from run A to run B in the ECT group compared to the depressive control group gives further evidence that ECT has a positive effect on important information processing parameters.

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