Out of the office and into the field: Exploring neuropsychological correlates between search behavior and a traditional desktop task in children and adolescents with ADHD

Marcos Francisco Rosetti, Rosa Elena Ulloa, Lino Palacios-Cruz, Robyn Hudson, Francisco de la Peña

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17711/SM.0185-3325.2018.039


Introduction. Cognitive assessment of patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help clinicians provide individually tailored treatment and advice, and researchers to identify potential associations between psychopathology and specific cognitive deficits. Assessment instruments, however, have received some criticism regarding their ecological validity, that is, the capacity to extrapolate from the performance on such tasks to aspects of everyday functioning. In order to meet this challenge we developed the Ball Search Field Task (BSFT) that takes place outdoors and uses large, open areas. In the BSFT, the goal is to search for target objects hidden under opaque containers, with experimenters assessing the efficiency of participants’ strategies to collect a maximum of these.

Objective. Here we explore how the measures produced by one of the latest versions of this task (the patchy BSFT) match up with a traditional desktop task often used in clinical environments, the Tower of London (ToLo).

Method. We applied the BSFT and ToLo to children and adolescents with ADHD and compared the metrics using Spearman correlations.

Results. We found significant, moderate correlations between instruments, as exemplified by that of balls collected per cones lifted (BSFT) and number of moves (ToLo) (r = -.44).

Discussion and conclusion. Matching correlates between the BSFT and ToLo suggest these tasks may be tapping into similar cognitive processes. The addition of assessment tools with ecological validity may help provide a more comprehensive evaluation and a better understanding of the day-to-day impact of cognitive afflictions underlying psychiatric disorders such as ADHD.


Neuropsychological tests; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; Tower of London test; ecological validity; Ball Search Field Task

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