Sluggish cognitive tempo and processing speed in adolescents with ADHD: do findings vary based on informant and task?

Abstract

Few studies have examined whether behavioral sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) symptoms are related to speeded task performance. Mixed findings in existing research could be due to previous studies using a broad conceptualization of processing speed, not including self-report of SCT symptoms, and relying on non-optimal measures of SCT. Using a multi-informant design with both parent- and adolescent-reported SCT symptoms, the present study provides a preliminary test of the hypothesis that SCT symptoms would be associated with slower performance on tasks having greater graphomotor and fine motor demands. Participants were 80 adolescents (ages 13–17 years; 71% male) with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adolescents and parents completed ratings of SCT. Adolescents were administered the Wechsler Symbol Search and Coding subtests and the Grooved Pegboard Test. When adjusting for age, sex, and ADHD symptom severity, parent-reported SCT symptoms were not significantly associated with Symbol Search or Coding scores but were significantly associated with slower Grooved Pegboard time. Adolescent-reported SCT symptoms were not significantly associated with Symbol Search but were significantly associated with lower Coding scores and slower Grooved Pegboard time. Findings provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that SCT may be more clearly associated with processing speed task performance as motor demands increase and provide a potential explanation for the mixed literature on SCT in relation to processing speed by demonstrating that the presence and magnitude of associations vary by informant and task.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Participants administered the WISC-IV (ages 13–16 years; n = 73) or WAIS-IV (age 17 years; n = 7) did not significantly differ on Coding or Symbol Search scores, nor did they differ on estimated IQ, Grooved Pegboard times, or SCT scores (all ps > .05). Further, the pattern of findings reported in this study were unchanged when analyses were conducted only with participants who were administered the WISC-IV.

  2. 2.

    The pattern of findings was unchanged when controlling for medication status or when WISC/WAIS raw scores were used instead of standard scores.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grant R03MH109787 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Stephen Becker is supported by award number K23MH108603 from the NIMH. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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Becker, S.P., Marsh, N.P., Holdaway, A.S. et al. Sluggish cognitive tempo and processing speed in adolescents with ADHD: do findings vary based on informant and task?. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 29, 1371–1384 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-019-01446-x

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Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Graphomotor
  • Motor speed
  • Neurocognition
  • Sluggish cognitive tempo