Support Home Educational Resources Behavioural Science Wisconsin Card Sorting Task

Classic experiments explained

Wisconsin Card Sorting Task

In short

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST), first used by Grant & Berg (1948), is a classic neuropsychological task in which participants' executive function and abstract reasoning is tested as well as the integrity of their frontal lobe function. It's crafted to measure cognitive processes such as set shifting, perseverance and attention. Used in clinical fields, it tests whether the participant has the competence to demonstrate flexibility when exposed to changes in reinforcement.

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Task

On each round, a series of reference cards are presented to the participant and one target card. The target card has three categorisation possibilities: shape, colour or number. Broadly, during the experiment the participant doesn't explicitly know the categorisation rule when selecting the reference card to match the target. After each response, participants are given feedback on the accuracy of their responses and they must utilise this feedback for future decisions. After a few trials, the rule is switched without warning and the abstract reasoning starts from the beginning. Once the participant identifies the new correct rule, they must apply this new sorting rule across changing stimulus conditions, whilst ignoring the previous rule.

A screenshot of an example WCST trial, where one target card is presented and four reference cards can be chosen from.

What does the WCST investigate?

This task allows us to assess participants' performance in planning strategically, directing behaviour towards achieving a goal, and also regular impulsive responding. It is vital in order to be able to understand if a participant can switch their attention from one feature of an image to another.

Similarly to the Stroop task, the different stimulus properties on the cards may interfere with each other. Furthermore, in the Stroop task participants switch between the response rules of colour naming and word reading when given written coloured words as stimuli. Both are traditional set shifting tasks.

A brief evaluation

Certainly, the WCST has been very useful in assessing executive function and its potential impairments. It provides good normative data and still remains one of the most distinctive tests of prefrontal function.

However, since its assessments aren't specific enough, it isn't always precise in locating possible damage in the frontal lobe. Stuss et al. (2000) proposed that the WCST is a multifactorial examination of distributed neural networks, not solely a test on frontal lobe function. There have also been suggestions of lacking established correspondence between WCST errors and certain cognitive processes (Barcelo & Knight, 2002). Therefore, when using the WCST in clinical settings, it is important to recognise these limitations.

Can I use the WCST in online research?

Yes, absolutely! In fact, other researchers have used the WCST to study sleep and daytime functioning in children with tourette syndrom (Keenan et al., 2024).

How does it work in Gorilla?

You can try our and clone our sample of the WCST. Of course, you can also tweak this sample to use your own stimuli.

Have a look: Try a Wisconsin Card Sorting Task in Gorilla

Are there any papers Gorilla users have written about the WSCT?

Yes, there are! Have a look at the following article:

Sleep and daytime functioning in children with tourette syndrome: A two-week case-control study with actigraphy and cognitive assessments


Barceló, F., & Knight, R. T. (2002). Both random and perseverative errors underlie WCST deficits in prefrontal patients. Neuropsychologia, 40(3), 349-356.

Grant, D. A., & Berg, E. A. (1948). Wisconsin Card Sorting Test [Database record]. APA PsycTests.

Keenan, L., Bramham, J., Dinca, M., Coogan, A. N., & Downes, M. (2024). Sleep and daytime functioning in children with tourette syndrome: A two-week case-control study with actigraphy and cognitive assessments. Sleep Medicine, 113, 313-327.

Monchi, O., Petrides, M., Petre, V., Worsley, K., & Dagher, A. (2001). Wisconsin Card Sorting revisited: distinct neural circuits participating in different stages of the task identified by event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging. Journal of Neuroscience, 21(19), 7733-7741.

Stuss, D. T., Levine, B., Alexander, M. P., Hong, J., Palumbo, C., Hamer, L., ... & Izukawa, D. (2000). Wisconsin Card Sorting Test performance in patients with focal frontal and posterior brain damage: effects of lesion location and test structure on separable cognitive processes. Neuropsychologia, 38(4), 388-402.

This page was written in collaboration with Lizzie Drury