Visual sustained attention in a child psychiatric population

Hanna Swaab-Barneveld, Leo De Sonneville, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, Anneke Gielen, Jan Buitelaar, Herman Van Engeland

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To increase knowledge of the diversity and specificity of sustained attention deficits in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with special reference to the issue of distinguishing between children with ADHD and children with other psychiatric diagnoses. Method: A visual sustained attention task was used to compare 52 boys with ADHD with 55 normal controls, 29 boys with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder (ODD/CD), 29 boys with anxiety or dysthymia (ANX/DYS), 43 boys with pervasive developmental disorder, 24 boys with ADHD plus ODD/CD, and 14 boys with ADHD plus ANX/DYS. Results: Compared with normal controls, children with ADHD were slower, were more inaccurate, were more impulsive, were less responsive to feedback, and showed less perceptual sensitivity and stability of performance, resulting in a marked decrease in vigilance over time. Unresponsiveness to feedback and the extent of the decrease in vigilance during time on task were found to be the only factors that distinguished children with ADHD from children with other diagnoses. Conclusion: Although only children with ADHD are characterized primarily by 'attention deficits,' sustained attention deficit is common to a certain extent to all children with psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-659
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Continuous performance
  • Sustained attention
  • Vigilance

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