Neurocognitive Correlates of Clinical Decision Making: A Pilot Study Using Electroencephalography
The development of sound clinical reasoning, while essential for optimal patient care, can be quite an elusive process. Researchers typically rely on a self-report or observational measures to study decision making, but clinicians’ reasoning processes may not be apparent to themselves or outside observers. This study explored electroencephalography (EEG) to examine neurocognitive correlates of clinical decision making during a simulated American Board of Anesthesiology-style standardized oral exam. Eight novice anesthesiology residents and eight fellows who had recently passed their board exams were included in the study. Measures included EEG recordings from each participant, demographic information, self-reported cognitive load, and observed performance. To examine neurocognitive correlates of clinical decision making, power spectral density (PSD) and functional connectivity between pairs of EEG channels were analyzed. Although both groups reported similar cognitive load (p = 0.840), fellows outperformed novices based on performance scores (p < 0.001). PSD showed no significant differences between the groups. Several coherence features showed significant differences between fellows and residents, mostly related to the channels within the frontal, between the frontal and parietal, and between the frontal and temporal areas. The functional connectivity patterns found in this study could provide some clues for future hypothesis-driven studies in examining the underlying cognitive processes that lead to better clinical reasoning.