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IES Grant

Title: Sluggish Cognitive Tempo: Examining its Impact on Educational Functioning
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Becker, Stephen Awardee: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (8/1/2016-7/31/2020) Award Amount: $1,393,223
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A160064

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to examine the academic and socio-emotional problems experienced by children with elevated sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) symptoms, along with the current patterns of school referral, educational accommodations, and interventions for children with elevated levels of SCT. Sluggish cognitive tempo refers to a specific set of attentional symptoms, including excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog," and slowed thinking or behavior. Elevated SCT occurs in approximately 5–8% of all children. It is a unique pattern of attentional difficulties that are not captured by Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact, it is estimated that approximately half of children displaying elevated SCT symptoms do not have ADHD. Research on SCT is in its infancy and in this project, researchers use a multi-method design to examine the specific educational difficulties experienced by children with elevated levels of SCT.

Project Activities: The research team will use a multi-method design to assess students in Grades 2 to 5 to identify the academic and socio-emotional problems that differentiate children with and without elevated sluggish cognitive tempo symptoms.

Products: The findings from this project can inform the development of interventions to mitigate the long-term negative consequences of sluggish cognitive tempo. In addition, researchers will produce peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in over 20 elementary schools in Ohio and Kentucky.

Sample: The schools involved in this project will provide a diverse sample of students from a range of socioeconomic statuses and include a sizeable percentage of students who are minorities and who receive free or reduced price lunch. A total of 190 students (95 students with elevated SCT, 95 matched comparison students without SCT) from Grades 2 to 5 will participate in this study.

Intervention: There is no intervention for this study.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will conduct a cross-sectional study of 190 students (95 SCT and 95 comparison children) across Grades 2 to 5. Teacher ratings will be used to identify students who do and do not have elevated SCT as observed in the school context. Data collection will include a comprehensive battery of teacher, parent, and student self-report measures, along with academic achievement testing and curriculum-based measures, and school records to evaluate both broad (e.g., grades, social problems) and specific (e.g., homework problems, academic productivity, peer withdrawal) aspects of academic and socio-emotional functioning. In addition, classroom and playground observations, as well as an analogue homework task, will be conducted to provide a fine-grained evaluation of the unique academic and socio-emotional problems of students with SCT as compared to their peers.

Control Condition: The study includes a comparison group of 95 students without SCT.

Key Measures: Key academic outcome measures include the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT-III), Academic Competence Evaluation Scales, Homework Performance Questionnaire, Children's Organizational Skills Scale, Curriculum Based Measurement, and the Analogue Math Task. Social functioning measures include teacher, parent, and child rating scales, in addition to playground observations (i.e., Social Skills Improvement System, Dishion Social Acceptance Scale, Child Behavior Scale, Child Social Preference Scale, Loneliness Questionnaire, Child and Adolescent Disruptive Behavior Inventory, Emotion Regulation Checklist, and Children's Emotion Management Scale). School records and academic grades of participating students will also be collected.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will analyze data using a series of multivariate analyses of covariance (MANCOVAs) to test for significant differences between SCT and comparison students on measures of academic, social, and emotional functioning. Student's ADHD symptoms, internalizing (anxiety/depression) symptoms, age, sex, socioeconomic status, and IQ will be included in the analyses as covariates.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Becker, S.P. and Langberg J.M. (2017). Difficult to Bed and Difficult to Rise: Complex Interplay Among ADHD, Sleep, and Adolescence. The ADHD Report, 25(1): 7–13.

Becker, S.P., and Willcutt, E.G. (2018). Advancing the Study of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo via DSM, RDoC, and Hierarchical Models of Psychopathology. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 1–11.

Becker, S.P., Burns, G.L., Schmitt, A.P., Epstein, J.N., and Tamm, L. (2017). Toward Establishing a Standard Symptom Set for Assessing Sluggish Cognitive Tempo in Children: Evidence From Teacher Ratings in a Community Sample. Assessment.