Self-regulation in ADHD: the role of error processing

Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Dec;30(8):951-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.06.010. Epub 2010 Jun 28.


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by persistent and impairing developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Such behavioral dysregulation may be a consequence of deficits in self-monitoring or adaptive control, both of which are required for adaptive behavior. Processing of contextual demands, ongoing monitoring of one's behavior to evaluate whether it is appropriate for a particular situation, and adjusting behavior when it is suboptimal are components of self-regulation. This review examines and integrates the emerging literature on error-processing and adaptive control as components of self-regulation into the prominent etiological theories of ADHD. Available data on error-processing, as reflected in event-related potentials (ERN and Pe) and behavioral performance, suggest that both early error detection and later error-evaluation may be diminished in ADHD, thereby interfering with adaptive control processes. However, variability in results limit broad conclusions, particularly for early error detection. A range of methodological issues, including ERP parameters and sample and task characteristics, likely contribute to this variability, and recommendations for future work are presented. The emerging literature on error-processing and adaptive control informs etiological theories of ADHD in general and may provide a method for testing self-regulation models in particular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Attention* / physiology
  • Awareness* / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving* / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Social Control, Informal*