March 21, 2022
An international study team conducted the first meta-analysis of studies examining differences in time perception between persons with ADHD and normally developing controls. A systematic search of the peer-reviewed medical literature identified 55 studies that could be combined into various subgroups for meta-analysis.
A meta-analysis of 25 studies with a combined 1,633 participants looking at time discrimination found a medium effect size deficit among persons with ADHD in the number of correct comparisons between the length of two signals. There was little between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bias.
Turning to time estimation, a meta-analysis of eight studies with a combined 1,024 participants found a small-to-medium effect size increase in absolute errors (i.e., the absolute value of deviation between the specified and the estimated time interval, representing the absolute amount of error regardless of its direction) among persons with ADHD, compared to controls. Again, there was little between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bias.
A meta-analysis of seven studies with combined 380 participants looked at differences in time production, in which they had to produce a previously specified time interval by pressing and holding a button. In this case, those with ADHD manifested a small effect size increase in absolute error relative to their normally developing counterparts. There was moderate between-study heterogeneity and no sign of publication bias.
Finally, a meta-analysis of 26 studies with combined 2,364 participants examined differences in time reproduction, in which they had to reproduce the duration of a previously presented stimulus by pressing and holding a button. Here, those with ADHD exhibited a medium effect size increase in absolute error. There was moderate between-study heterogeneity and no indication of publication bias.
An acknowledged limitation of these meta-analyses was the inability to assess the effects of pharmacological treatment. In addition, 84% of the studies did not report the ethnicity of participants.
The team concluded, "We found meta-analytic evidence of significant deficits in individuals with ADHD across all timing paradigms ... individuals with ADHD have difficulties to discriminate stimuli that vary from each other for only several milliseconds, and they are more variable in their time estimates of several seconds irrespective of the paradigm examined, which may both be driven by their lowered alertness levels."
They suggested that this might eventually become a criterion to help diagnose ADHD: "Our findings have possible clinical implications, albeit not currently directly applicable to the clinical practice. As timing has been proposed as an independent neuropsychological pathway to ADHD, timing tasks should be considered in the clinical assessment of ADHD to better characterize the clinical profile of the patient... To characterize further the phenotype of the patient during the diagnostic process that may deserve clinical attention, we suggest developing a tool based on the time estimation paradigm. The time estimation accuracy score not only represents an intuitive score reflecting faster internal clock mechanisms in individuals with ADHD, but the paradigm also shows high internal consistency and test-retest reliability, allowing for a reliable assessment of developmental or interventional changes in timing abilities related to developmental factors or external interventions."
Ivo Marx, Samuele Cortese, Michael G Koelch, Thomas Hacker, "Meta-analysis: Altered Perceptual Timing Abilities in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2021), published online,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2021.12.004.