Modulation of response timing in ADHD, effects of reinforcement valence and magnitude

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2008 Apr;36(3):445-56. doi: 10.1007/s10802-007-9190-8. Epub 2007 Nov 22.


The present study investigated the impact of reinforcement valence and magnitude on response timing in children with ADHD. Children were required to estimate a 1-s interval, and both the median response time (response tendency) and the intrasubject-variability (response stability) were investigated. In addition, heart rate and skin conductance were measured to examine the autonomic responses to reinforcement. Feedback-only trials were compared to low response cost trials (response cost for incorrect responses), low reward trials (reward for correct responses), high response cost and high reward trials. In feedback-only trials, children with ADHD underestimated more severely the interval and responded more variably than controls. Children with ADHD, unlike controls, were unaffected by the reinforcement conditions in terms of time underestimations. The variability of responding, on the other hand, decreased under conditions of reinforcement to a larger extent in children with ADHD than controls. There were no indications that children with ADHD were abnormally affected by the valence or magnitude of reinforcement. Furthermore, skin conductance responses increased when feedback was coupled with reinforcement, an effect which was larger in children with ADHD than controls. This could be interpreted as demonstrating that children with ADHD suffer from a diminished awareness of the significance of feedback in the feedback-only condition. The current study suggests that children with ADHD suffer from motivation problems when reinforcement was not available, at least when variability in responding was measured. Underestimations of time may reflect more stable deficits in ADHD.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Child
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors