Report: Concussion Test Susceptible to Cheating

Andy Berg Headshot

A common test that screens for concussions can easily be duped, according to new research from Butler University that was reported by the Washington Post.

Researchers at Butler found that half of those who took ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test) purposefully underperformed on their initial baseline exams, thus going undetected when taking the test after a head injury. By “sandbagging” their initial test, athletes were able to return to physical activity sooner than they should have.

Athletes usually take ImPACT before the start of their sports season to establish a baseline. The test has been administered more than 12 million times, according to ImPACT Applications, the company that makes the exam. The Post reports that the company has deals to provide the assessment to Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, U.S. Lacrosse and the British Football Association.

“Anyone who works with the concussed clinically knows there are a lot of people who purposefully sandbag the baseline test and a lot of people don’t get caught,” said Amy Peak, one of the study’s authors and director of undergraduate health science programs at Butler. “I would hear in the community and hear all these athletes tell me, ‘I sandbagged mine, everybody sandbags it.’ ” 

Peak was able to recruit 77 volunteers for the study, 40 of whom were randomly chosen and told to sandbag the test, and 37 who were told to try their best. Peak suggested that those who administer ImPACT should know the test taker personally. 

“Once you know the individual, that should give you a strong gut feeling,” Peak said. “Especially in colleges, these trainers know athletes well. They should be able to tell if something doesn’t look right.”

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