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J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2005 Jan;27(1):78-101.

A meta-analytic review of verbal fluency deficits in depression.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


A prominent view in the neuropsychological literature is that depression is particularly associated with deficits in executive control processes. A meta-analysis of 42 studies with 2306 participants was therefore conducted to investigate the sensitivity of tests of verbal fluency to the pressure of this disorder, as there is a great deal of evidence that theses measures are valid markers of executive dysfunction. When the methodology adopted by other meta-analytic reviews was employed, semantic fluency deficits were found to be substantially larger than the phonemic fluency deficits. However, when a more rigorous method of meta-analysis was adopted, this indicated that the measure are in fact broadly equivalent in their sensitivity to depression, as has been found for patients with focal frontal lobe lesions. However, in contrast to patients with focal frontal lobe injuries, neither deficit qualified as a differential deficit relative to psychomotor speed. Therefore, for patients with depression, deficits on tests of phonemic and semantic fluency may not reflect executive dysfunction, but a more generalized impairment. Evidence is presented that tests of phonemic and semantic fluency may aid in the differential diagnosis of patients with depression and those in the early stages of dementia of the Alzheimer's type.

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