Internet Shows Promise as Reliable Tool for Testing Cognitive Symptoms of Psychiatric Illnesses

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Fred W. Sabb, Ph.D., ADHD Expert
Fred W. Sabb, Ph.D.

Among the challenges in understanding complex psychiatric disorders is that of finding large samples of people to observe and test whose behavioral responses can be validly assessed and accurately compared. Finding efficient tools to consistently examine people is especially critical in studying the genetic contributions of psychiatric disorders: tiny statistical differences can have tremendous implications in genetics. This makes it necessary to assemble large collections of “comparable” individuals to conduct studies with sufficient statistical power to be scientifically meaningful.

Fred W. Sabb, Ph.D., a 2008 recipient of a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant and Assistant Professor in Residence at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Semel Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has published results of careful experiments with a new approach to address these challenges. Published in the August 2nd issue of Brain and Behavior, the research was conducted via the web both to recruit participants and to administer behavioral tests. Working with a sample of 1,214 people, including 200 pairs of parents and children who conducted testing together, the tests measured cognitive functions implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), specifically, attention, working memory (very short-term) and response inhibition (the ability to control one’s impulses).

Dr. Sabb, with collaborators at UCLA, including two-time NARSAD Grantee, Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D., demonstrated that a valid and reliable sample could be readily recruited via the web. The performance of those enrolled on the self-administered online tests enabled identification of inattentive symptoms.

The results are exciting to Dr. Sabb and colleagues, who note that “running hundreds or thousands of participants in lab-based studies is extremely inefficient and practically impossible to execute in a timely manner.” They hope their study will help dispel lingering doubts about online recruitment and testing efforts as an important tool in better understanding the cognitive impairments associated with a broad range of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Read this research paper.

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