, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 149-178

The ecological validity of laboratory and analogue assessment methods of ADHD symptoms

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Abstract

An important question in the attempt to generalize laboratory findings on attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children to clinical issues concerning their assessment, diagnosis, outcome, and treatment response is the ecological validity of the commonly used tasks and analogue behavioral observation procedures. This paper examines the concept of ecological validity and issues inherent in its evaluation. The evidence from a variety of sources is then reviewed on the relationship between laboratory methods of assessing inattention, impulsivity, and overactivity and measures of these same constructs in natural settings. Additional findings pertaining to this issue from a recent study of 140 ADHD and normal children and 159 ADHD and normal adolescents using a multimethod battery of tests are also reported. In general, the ecological validity of most methods is of a low to moderate degree, with some traditional laboratory tasks proving unsatisfactory. A few tasks demonstrated acceptable degrees of ecological validity but even these require improvement. It is concluded that future advances in ecological validity are likely to come from: (a) a greater reliance on assessments of the target behaviors in natural settings and (b) combining several of the more promising tasks and analogue methods into a battery that is taken over longer time intervals than has been customary and averaged across repeated administrations.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Symposium on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 6 and 7, 1989. The author wishes to thank Charles E. Cunningham, Ph.D., Susan Campbell, Ph.D., Mark Rapport, Ph.D., Eric Mash, Ph.D., and Herbert Quay, Ph.D., for their comments on an earlier version of this paper, and to Marcel Kinsbourne, M.D., for his comments on the presentation itself. The author was supported by funds from NIMH grants 41464, 41583, and 42181 during the preparation of this review.