ADHD related behaviors are associated with brain activation in the reward system

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Feb;49(3):426-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.12.012. Epub 2010 Dec 14.


Neuroimaging studies on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suggest dysfunctional reward processing, with hypo-responsiveness during reward anticipation in the reward system including the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). In this study, we investigated the association between ADHD related behaviors and the reward system using functional magnetic resonance imaging in a non-clinical sample. Participants were 31 healthy, female undergraduate students with varying levels of self-reported ADHD related behaviors measured by the adult ADHD self-report scale. The anticipation of different types of reward was investigated: monetary reward, punishment avoidance, and verbal feedback. All three reward anticipation conditions were found to be associated with increased brain activation in the reward system, with the highest activation in the monetary reward anticipation condition, followed by the punishment avoidance anticipation condition, and the lowest activation in the verbal feedback anticipation condition. Most interestingly, in all three conditions, NAcc activation was negatively correlated with ADHD related behaviors. In conclusion, our results from a non-clinical sample are in accordance with reported deficits in the reward system in ADHD patients: the higher the number and severity of ADHD related behaviors, the lower the neural responses in the dopaminergic driven reward anticipation task. Thus, our data support current aetiological models of ADHD which assume that deficits in the reward system might be responsible for many of the ADHD related behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / pathology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motivation
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nucleus Accumbens / pathology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult