Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Phonological Working Memory: Methodological Variability Affects Clinical and Experimental Performance Metrics

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Objective: Despite promising findings in extant research that suggest impaired working memory (WM) serves as a central neurocognitive deficit or candidate endophenotype of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), findings from translational research have been relatively underwhelming. This study aimed to explicate previous equivocal findings by systematically examining the effect of methodological variability on WM performance estimates across experimental and clinical WM measures. Method: Age-matched boys (ages 8–12 years) with (n = 20) and without (n = 20) ADHD completed 1 experimental (phonological) and 2 clinical (digit span, letter–number sequencing) WM measures. Results: The use of partial scoring procedures, administration of greater trial numbers, and high central executive demands yielded moderate-to-large between-groups effect sizes. Moreover, the combination of these best-case procedures, compared to worst-case procedures (i.e., absolute scoring, administration of few trials, use of discontinue rules, and low central executive demands), resulted in a 12.5% increase in correct group classification. Conclusion: Collectively, these findings explain inconsistent ADHD-related WM deficits in previous reports, and highlight the need for revised clinical measures that utilize best-case procedures.

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