Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp916-sebu-469151 July 15, 2003 17:45 Style ﬁle version Nov 28th, 2002
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 2003 (
Letter to the Editor
The Journal has recently published several articles about the Abel test. In
the recent article by Letourneau this test continues to be referred to as measuring
“visual reaction time.”
The terms we use are important in shaping the ways in which we think about
our tasks and objectives. I believe that the use of the term “reaction time” presents
a falsely objective impression of this test. In fact, what the Abel test measures is
viewing time rather than reaction time.
I do not believe this is a mere quibble. In physiology, reaction time refers
to a latency period between a stimulus and response that is often very rapid and
outside of one’s awareness. Examples include latencies on a word association test
and the evoked potentials seen on an EEG in response to auditory stimuli. In the
Abel test however the subject chooses how long to view a particular slide. This is
quite different than a physiological reaction.
In addition, the test should not, in my opinion, be described (as it is by some,
although not by Letourneau) as measuring a preference for any stimulus set, as it
simply measures viewing time.
This is not to imply that the Abel test itself is a poor measurement device; in-
deed our Clinic employs it in addition to the plethysmograph, and Letourneau has
found some validity for the test itself. However, I do believe we should be careful
about how we refer to these tests because the amount of time a subject chooses to
view a slide is quite different than a physiologically determined “reaction time”
as typically referred to in the scientiﬁc literature.
Barry M. Maletzky, MD
Oregon Health Sciences University
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation