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Factors Contributing to Disparities in Baseline Neurocognitive Performance and Concussion Symptom Scores Between Black and White Collegiate Athletes



National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) concussion guidelines state that all NCAA athletes must have a concussion baseline test prior to commencing their competitive season. To date, little research has examined potential racial differences on baseline neurocognitive performance among NCAA athletes. The purpose of this study was to investigate differences between Black and White collegiate athletes on baseline neurocognitive performance and self-reported symptoms.


A total of 597 collegiate athletes (400 White, 197 Black) participated in this study. Athletes self-reported their race on the demographic section of their pre-participation physical examination and were administered the Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (ImPACT) neurocognitive battery in a supervised, quiet room. Controlling for sex, data were analyzed using separate one-way analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) on symptom score, verbal and visual memory, visual motor processing speed, and reaction time composite scores.


Results revealed significant differences between White and Black athletes on baseline symptom score (F (1,542) = 5.82, p = .01), visual motor processing speed (F (1,542) = 14.89, p < .001), and reaction time (F (1,542) = 11.50, p < .01). White athletes performed better than Black athletes on baseline visual motor processing speed and reaction time. Black athletes reported higher baseline symptom scores compared to Whites. There was no statistical difference between race on verbal memory (p = .08) and that on visual memory (p = .06).


Black athletes demonstrated disparities on some neurocognitive measures at baseline. These results suggest capturing an individual baseline on each athlete, as normative data comparisons may be inappropriate for athletes of a racial minority.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica Wallace.

Ethics declarations

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Wallace, J., Covassin, T., Moran, R. et al. Factors Contributing to Disparities in Baseline Neurocognitive Performance and Concussion Symptom Scores Between Black and White Collegiate Athletes. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 5, 894–900 (2018).

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  • Neurocognitive performance
  • Collegiate athletes
  • ImPACT
  • Racial disparities
  • Baseline testing