Diving Hyperb Med. 2013 Sep;43(3):138-42.

Functional comparison between critical flicker fusion frequency and simple cognitive tests in subjects breathing air or oxygen in normobaria.



Measurement of inert gas narcosis and its degree is difficult during operational circumstances, hence the need for a reliable, reproducible and adaptable tool. Although being an indirect measure of brain function, if reliable, critical flicker fusion frequency (CFFF) could address this need and be used for longitudinal studies on cortical arousal in humans.


To test the reliability of this method, the comparison between CFFF and three tests (Math-Processing Task, Trail-Making Task, and Perceptual Vigilance Task) from the Psychology Experiment Building Language battery (PEBL) were used to evaluate the effect of 10 minutes of 100% normobaric oxygen breathing on mental performance in 20 healthy male volunteers.


Breathing normobaric oxygen significantly improved all but one of the measured parameters, with an increase of CFFF (117.3 ± 10.04% of baseline, P < 0.0001) and a significant reduction of time to complete in both the math-processing (2,103 ± 432.1 ms to 1,879 ± 417.5 ms, P = 0.0091) and trail-making tasks (1,992 ± 715.3 to 1,524 ± 527.8 ms, P = 0.0241). The magnitude of CFFF change and time to completion of both tests were inversely correlated (Pearson r = -0.9695 and -0.8731 respectively, P < 0.0001). The perceptual vigilance task did not show a difference between air and O₂ (P > 0.4).


The CFFF test provides an assessment of cognitive function that is similar to some tests from PEBL, but requires a less complicated set up and could be used under various environmental conditions including diving. Further research is needed to assess the combined effects of increased pressure and variations in inspired gas mixtures during diving.

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