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J Consult Clin Psychol. 2019 Nov;87(11):1030-1042. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000446.

What cognitive processes are "sluggish" in sluggish cognitive tempo?

Author information

Department of Psychology.
Department of Pediatrics, Center for Advancement of Youth, University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Center for Children and Families, Florida International University.
Department of Psychology, Florida State University.
Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.



Sluggish cognitive tempo refers to a constellation of symptoms that include slowed behavior/thinking, reduced alertness, and getting lost in one's thoughts. Despite the moniker "sluggish cognitive tempo," the evidence is mixed regarding the extent to which it is associated globally with slowed (sluggish) mental (cognitive) information processing speed (tempo).


A well-characterized clinical sample of 132 children ages 8-13 years (M = 10.34, SD = 1.51; 47 girls; 67% White/non-Hispanic) were administered multiple, counterbalanced neurocognitive tests and assessed for sluggish cognitive tempo symptoms via multiple-informant reports.


Bayesian linear regressions revealed significant evidence against associations between sluggish cognitive tempo and computationally modeled processing speed (BF01 > 3.70), and significant evidence for associations with slower working memory manipulation speed. These findings were consistent across parent and teacher models, with and without control for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder inattentive symptoms and IQ. There was also significant evidence linking faster inhibition speed with higher parent-reported sluggish cognitive tempo symptoms.


These findings provide strong evidence against characterizing children with sluggish cognitive tempo symptoms as possessing a globally sluggish cognitive tempo. Instead, these symptoms appear to be related, to a significant extent, to executive dysfunction characterized by working memory systems that are too slow and inhibition systems that are too fast. Behaviorally, these findings suggest that requiring extra time to rearrange the active contents of working memory delays responding, whereas an overactive inhibition system likely terminates thoughts too quickly and therefore prevents intended behaviors from starting or completing, thereby giving the appearance that children are absent-minded or failing to act when expected. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

[Available on 2020-11-01]

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