May posterror performance be a critical factor for behavioral deficits in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?

Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug 1;70(3):246-54. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.02.026. Epub 2011 Apr 30.


Background: Although the performance of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is impaired in a variety of cognitive tasks, the specific capacity of strategic readaptation after errors as a source of behavioral deficits is not sufficiently understood. This study used an extended and refined behavioral parameterization to assess performance monitoring and posterror adaptation in children with ADHD.

Methods: Twenty-eight healthy control subjects and 47 ADHD patients (7-16 years of age, all males, matched for age and IQ) performed a visual flanker task in which targets were congruent or incongruent with preceding flankers. Posterror adaptation was measured for response speed (posterror slowing), accuracy, and variability by using normalized individual rates of change. Markers of error detection and general performance were also analyzed.

Results: Postcorrect response speed and accuracy did not differ between the groups, in contrast to posterror behaviors. Whereas posterror slowing was not evident in any of the groups, the error rate and performance instability (reaction time variance) substantially increased after errors only in ADHD patients, not in control subjects. No reliable between-group differences were found for error detection and global performance.

Conclusions: In healthy children, posterror adaptation preserves performance at its ongoing level. No such adaptation was evident in ADHD, leading to consecutive errors and increased behavioral instability. Performance deficits in ADHD were only present after error but not after correct behaviors, which shapes the general profile of performance impairment in ADHD. The findings have practical implications for strategic designs of behavioral therapy in ADHD.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time