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Spatial Slider

Test type: Planning

Do you ever have the feeling that you're going one step forward and two steps back?

How good are you at planning ahead? Try this test to find out

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About this test

What can planning tasks tell us about Parkinson's disease?

The spatial slider task engages your 'high-level planning abilities'; the cognitive skills that allow you to 'think ahead' in order to work out the correct sequence of responses to complete each puzzle. We have been researching the mental processes that underlye cognitive planning for over 20 years. One focus of our investigations has been to understand more about the planning impairments that occur in patients with Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder, which results in motor deficits such as tremor, rigidity and postural instability. In some patients, the disease is coupled with a slowing of cognitive functions as well; our research has shown that Parkinson's patients have slowed thinking (also known as 'bradyphrenia') when performing planning tasks (Owen et al 1992, Owen et al 1995). In order to understand more about the underlying mechanism of these cognitive impairments, we have been using neuroimaging methods such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional resonance imaging (or 'fMRI') to look at how brain activation in Parkinson's patients differs from healthy volunteers when they are doing planning tasks (for a review of this work please see, Owen, 2004).


We have recently shown that Parkinson's disease patients who suffer most from cognitive slowing tend to have a specific genetic make up (or 'genotype'); specifically, they are what is known as Catechol O-Methyltransferase val58met- 'met met'. We scanned a group of these patients while they undertook a planning task and found that the poorer performance in those with the 'met met' genotype was associated with reduced activity in frontal and parietal neural networks. This result tells us important information about the underlying mechanisms of cognitive dysfunction in Parkinson's disease and, more generally, the role that genes play in performance on tasks like this (Williams-Gray et al, 2007).

-Williams-Gray, C.H., Hampshire, A., Robbins, T.W., Barker, R. A. Owen, A.M (2007). COMT val158met genotype influences frontoparietal activity during planning in patients with Parkinson's disease. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(18):4832-4838. Download PDF
-Owen, A. M (2004). Cognitive dysfunction in Parkinson's disease: the role of frontostriatal circuitry. The Neuroscientist, 10(6), 525-537Read Abstract
-Owen, A.M., Sahakian, B.J., Hodges, J.R., Summers, B.A., Polkey, C.E. and Robbins, T.W (1995).Dopamine-dependent fronto-striatal planning deficits in early Parkinson's disease. Neuropsychology, 9, 126-140. Download PDF
-Owen A.M., James, M., Leigh, P.N., Summers, B.A., Marsden, C.D, Quinn, N.P., Lange, K.W., Robbins T.W (1992). Frontostriatal cognitive deficits at different stages of Parkinson's disease. Brain, 115 (Pt 6), 1727-1751. Read Abstract

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