Confounding Factors In Psychomotor Testing

Substance abuse is commonly, but not necessarily, associated with an acquired TOLERANCE; this means that after repeated administration, a given dose of a drug produces a decreased effect and larger doses become needed to obtain the effects observed with the original dose. Deleterious psy-chomotor effects are usually easy to detect when large single doses are taken by people who have not yet acquired tolerance to the effects of drugs. The question becomes more complex when the user who takes small doses acquires significant tolerance to them because of regular use.

For any skilled performance, a large variation is observable among individuals. Thus some people may, by nature, have slower reactions or poorer information-processing capacities, and their best performance in the respective tests may be clearly worse compared with that of more capable subjects—even when the more capable are under the influence of performance-impairing drugs. The decremental drug effect can be similar in both cases, but the more capable subjects can afford it because of their better reserves. It is consequently difficult to define safe and unsafe doses of any agent.

Other factors that may influence psychomotor behavior include motivation, learning, adaptation to the task, and drowsiness. Paying the subjects according to how well they perform might improve motivation and performance, and this might skew the test results. (Such a motivational enhancer is not always mentioned in the research reports.) Impairment of performance may not be detected in tasks of short duration in a stimulating environment, whereas deleterious effects can be documented in monotonous tasks of long duration. Transposed to normal life situations, this observation may explain why an inebriated driver can get through a difficult driving test without any significant errors but cannot handle a surprising event after several hours of monotonous driving on a highway.

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