Background: Noise is typically conceived of as being detrimental to cognitive performance. However, given the mechanism of stochastic resonance, a certain amount of noise can benefit performance. We investigate cognitive performance in noisy environments in relation to a neurocomputational model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dopamine. The Moderate Brain Arousal model (MBA; Sikström & Söderlund, 2007) suggests that dopamine levels modulate how much noise is required for optimal cognitive performance. We experimentally examine how ADHD and control children respond to different encoding conditions, providing different levels of environmental stimulation.
Methods: Participants carried out self-performed mini tasks (SPT), as a high memory performance task, and a verbal task (VT), as a low memory task. These tasks were performed in the presence, or absence, of auditory white noise.
Results: Noise exerted a positive effect on cognitive performance for the ADHD group and deteriorated performance for the control group, indicating that ADHD subjects need more noise than controls for optimal cognitive performance.
Conclusions: The positive effect of white noise is explained by the phenomenon of stochastic resonance (SR), i.e., the phenomenon that moderate noise facilitates cognitive performance. The MBA model suggests that noise in the environment, introduces internal noise into the neural system through the perceptual system. This noise induces SR in the neurotransmitter systems and makes this noise beneficial for cognitive performance. In particular, the peak of the SR curve depends on the dopamine level, so that participants with low dopamine levels (ADHD) require more noise for optimal cognitive performance compared to controls.