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01-02-2019 | Uitgave 8/2019

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 8/2019

Exploring the Variability in Reaction Times of Preschoolers at Risk of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: an ex-Gaussian Analysis

Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology > Uitgave 8/2019
Shoou-Lian Hwang-Gu, Yu-Chi Chen, Sophie Hsin-Yi Liang, Hsing-Chang Ni, Hsiang-Yuan Lin, Chiao-Fan Lin, Susan Shur-Fen Gau
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-018-00508-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Reaction times (RTs) are typically slower and more variable in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Analysis of the ex-Gaussian RT distribution, which is described by mu, sigma (mean and standard deviation, respectively, of the normal distribution) and tau (that of exponential distribution), reveals that individuals with ADHD do not display overall slower RTs but have a high proportion of extremely slow RTs, represented by a high tau value. Although this is a vital component for describing ADHD-related RT variability in school-aged children, adolescents, and adults, it has not been thoroughly studied at the preschool age. We assessed 65 preschoolers at risk of ADHD and 98 typically developing preschoolers with the Conners’ Kiddie Continuous Performance Test (K-CPT) and parental and teacher reports of ADHD symptoms. We found that preschoolers at risk of ADHD had greater values for RT standard deviation, sigma, and tau than typically developing preschoolers at long inter-stimulus intervals (ISIs) (3 s), but not at short ISIs (1.5 s). This suggests that attention problems in preschool children may only be apparent in the tasks with a relatively slow event rate. Our study demonstrates that the ex-Gaussian tau value is essential for describing the inattentive component of task performance in preschoolers with heightened ADHD symptoms. Furthermore, the fact that the tau effect was modulated by ISI suggests that the longer duration (3 s vs. 1.5 s) is a non-optimal energetic state in preschoolers at risk of ADHD, and that this might account for the subtle attentional flaw in task performance.

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