Effects of Diurnal Variation on the Test of Variables of Attention Performance in Young Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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The Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA) is a continuous performance test that assesses attention, impulsivity, and processing speed. Continuous performance tests are used in the assessment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. TOVA norms are based on a morning administration, and any TOVA administered after 1:00 p.m. is flagged as potentially invalid. Whereas the testing time recommendations make sense for pediatric samples, it is unclear whether they are appropriate for young adults, who typically show significant phase delay in their diurnal rhythms. The current study explores the impact of time of day on TOVA performance in young adults with ADHD. Participants were randomly assigned to either morning or afternoon administration. We found no significant diurnal variation in TOVA performance. We also found no interaction between diurnal preference and time of day of administration. Night owls endorsed more inattention symptoms on a self-report measure than more intermediate individuals but actually made significantly fewer omission (inattention) errors on the TOVA. Self-reported symptoms of inattention showed moderate, significant correlations with various TOVA performance indices. Self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, however, showed no relationship to TOVA performance. These results suggest that the TOVA can be administered to adults with ADHD outside of the hours recommended in the manual without significantly compromising the interpretative validity of test score interpretation. Thus, a TOVA report that is consistent with ADHD should not be dismissed simply because it was administered in the late afternoon.

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