Background: Contemporary models of working memory suggest that target paradigm (TP) and target density (TD) should interact as influences on error rates derived from continuous performance tests (CPTs). The present study evaluated this hypothesis empirically in a typically developing, ethnically diverse sample of children. The extent to which scores based on different combinations of these task parameters showed different patterns of relationship to age, intelligence, and gender was also assessed.
Methods: Four continuous performance tests were derived by combining two target paradigms (AX and repeated letter target stimuli) with two levels of target density (8.3% and 33%). Variations in mean omission (OE) and commission (CE) error rates were examined within and across combinations of TP and TD. In addition, a nested series of structural equation models was utilized to examine patterns of relationship among error rates, age, intelligence, and gender.
Results: Target paradigm and target density interacted as influences on error rates. Increasing density resulted in higher OE and CE rates for the AX paradigm. In contrast, the high density condition yielded a decline in OE rates accompanied by a small increase in CEs using the repeated letter CPT. Target paradigms were also distinguishable on the basis of age when using OEs as the performance measure, whereas combinations of age and intelligence distinguished between density levels but not target paradigms using CEs as the dependent measure.
Conclusions: Different combinations of target paradigm and target density appear to yield scores that are conceptually and psychometrically distinguishable. Consequently, developmentally appropriate interpretation of error rates across tasks may require (a) careful analysis of working memory and attentional resources required for successful performance, and (b) normative data bases that are differently stratified with respect to combinations of age and intelligence.