BACKGROUND: The present study investigated the value of intra-subject variability (ISV) as a metric for revealing differences in cognition and brain activation associated with an obese versus lean body mass.

METHODS: Ninety-six adolescents with a lean body mass (BMI %-ile = 5-85), and 92 adolescents with an obese body mass (BMI %-ile >=95), performed two tasks (Stroop and Go/NoGo) challenging response inhibition skills. The standard deviations and averages of their reaction time and P300 electroencephalographic responses to task stimuli were computed across trials.

RESULTS: During the Go/NoGo task, the reaction times of subjects with an obese body mass were more variable than those of their lean body mass peers. Accompanying the greater ISV in reaction times was a group difference in P300 amplitude ISV in the opposite direction across both tasks. The effect sizes associated with these group differences in ISV were marginally greater than the effect sizes for the comparisons of the group means.

CONCLUSIONS: ISV may be superior to the mean as a tool for differentiating groups without significant cognitive impairment. The co-occurrence of reduced ISV in P300 amplitude and elevated ISV in reaction time may indicate a constraint among obese adolescent girls in the range of information processing strategies and neural networks that can compete to optimize response output. It remains to be determined if this decrement in neural plasticity has implications for their problem solving skills as well as their response to weight management interventions.

Publication Date



This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in the International Journal of Obesity. The final authenticated version is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2017.144

Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

Psychology (CLA)


RIT – Main Campus