The Relationship between literacy and Neuropsychological test performance among Adults in Zambia

Thumbnail Image
Walubita, Gabriel
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The influence of demographic factors such as education, age and gender on neuropsychological test performance has received a great deal of attention in literature. Even if there is a general consensus with regard to the importance of education’s influence on cognitive functioning measured by the neuropsychological test battery, the extent to which self-reported years of education corresponds to real acquisition of literacy skills remains largely opaque, especially in Zambia, where the past access of adults to education is very unevenly distributed. Several investigators have suggested that literacy may serve as a quantitative estimate of true education experience. Among African-Americans, research has revealed that self-reported years of education repeatedly over predicts estimated literacy level. The current study examined the relationship between literacy and cognitive test performance in a sample of 324 neurologically normal rural and urban, Zambian adults, ranging in age between 20 and 65 years with 5 to above 13 years of education. The data was collected through self-administered questionnaires and neuropsychological assessment. Results of the bivariate correlation analyses revealed a moderate positive association(r=.219,n=324,p<.01) between literacy and cognitive test performance however this relationship was not as strong as that found between education(r=.65,n=324,p<.01) and cognitive test performance. Education predicted neurocognitive test scores better than literacy. There are several reasons for these findings. First, reported years of education serves as a proxy for cognitive reserve, such that the more educated one is, the greater their cognitive power. Those who are educated use more efficient processing mechanisms than their uneducated counterparts. The point is simply that a person with more cognitive reserve might be able to identify a larger collection of alternate brain networks for solving the problem at hand. Second, the experience of going through the process of education may not only be limited to acquisition of writing and reading skills but also other broader skills such as test-taking, scanning, processing speed, concentration and task switching skills acquired through incidental learning rather than being taught directly in educational environments which may influence optimal neuropsychological performance. The results of this study suggest that the use of education rather than literacy, as an estimate of the educational experience will serve as a more meaningful alternative in neuropsychological test interpretation.
Neuropsychology-Research-Zambia , Cognitive neuroscience-Zambia