Reaction Time Variability in ADHD: A Review
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- Tamm, L., Narad, M.E., Antonini, T.N. et al. Neurotherapeutics (2012) 9: 500. doi:10.1007/s13311-012-0138-5
For the past decade, intra-individual variability in reaction times on computerized tasks has become a central focus of cognitive research on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Numerous studies document increased reaction time variability among children and adults with ADHD, relative to typically developing controls. However, direct comparisons with other disorders with heightened reaction time variability are virtually nonexistent, despite their potential to inform our understanding of the phenomenon. A growing literature examines the sensitivity of reaction time variability to theoretically and clinically relevant manipulations. There is strong evidence that stimulus treatment reduces reaction time variability during a range of cognitive tasks, but the literature is mixed regarding the impact of motivational incentives and variation in stimulus event rate. Most studies of reaction time variability implicitly assume that heightened reaction time variability reflects occasional lapses in attention, and the dominant neurophysiological interpretation suggests this variability is linked to intrusions of task-negative brain network activity during task performance. Work examining the behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of reaction time variability provides some support for these hypotheses, but considerably more work is needed in this area. Finally, because conclusions from each of domains reviewed are limited by the wide range of measures used to measure reaction time variability, this review highlights the need for increased attention to the cognitive and motivational context in which variability is assessed and recommends that future work always supplement macro-level variability indices with metrics that isolate particular components of reaction time variability.