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What Is an Attention Network Test?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Attention Network Test (ANT) is usually a brief, computerized battery of tests often used to measure different behavioral aspects of attention, and it is based on the Attention Network theory. Scientists typically use the test to measure the tester’s ability to overcome stimuli while doing tasks as well as how well the tester responds to valid and conflicting cues to complete those given tasks. Researchers and healthcare professionals will often use the test to study or diagnose various attention deficient disorders, in particular Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Usually, testers suffering from an attention disorder will show deficits in key areas of measurement on the test. This includes giving inaccurate answers as well as inconsistent responses to the cues provided in completing the tasks assigned.

Attention itself is a complex function of cognition, depending upon the neural interactions of the brain. The Attention Network theory divides the neural systems of the brain into three categories: the orientation and selection network, the executive and conflict network, and the vigilance network. Using reaction time (RT) and conflict tasks, scientists devised the Attention Network Test to measure the response times of these networks as well as the ability for the aforementioned networks to handle conflict. Though in multiple studies conducted in research settings, scientists have found that there is no significant difference in RT times between normal testers and those with an attention disorder. Instead, researchers found the degree of accuracy varied considerably; those diagnosed with an attention disorder consistently demonstrate serious deficits in accuracy and considerable omission errors.

Based on these results, the Attention Network Test has evolved to focus on the accuracy of the tester’s actions, in addition to reaction times and response to various stimuli. Scientists often conclude that testers with an attention disorder use different strategies when accomplishing tasks than those without a diagnosis, because testers with an attention disorder show deficits in accuracy and commit more omission errors. Additionally, some researchers also conclude that testers suffering from an attention disorder are using those strategies less effectively than their counterparts who do not have such a disorder.

Children are often the main target population for the Attention Network Test, both for the study of and potentially the diagnosis of ADHD. Results of the test have shown that the ANT can accurately index and measure the three neural systems of the brain, while also accurately measuring the efficiency of those networks in children. With adults, the ANT has demonstrated that suffers of ADHD are not only less accurate and exhibit a high degree on inconsistency, but also that adults with ADHD are often more alert than children, yet slower in responding to tasks while even more susceptible to conflicting stimuli.

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