Orbitofrontal reward sensitivity and impulsivity in adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Neuroimage. 2012 Mar;60(1):353-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.12.011. Epub 2011 Dec 16.


Impulsivity symptoms of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) such as increased risk taking have been linked with impaired reward processing. Previous studies have focused on reward anticipation or on rewarded executive functioning tasks and have described a striatal hyporesponsiveness and orbitofrontal alterations in adult and adolescent ADHD. Passive reward delivery and its link to behavioral impulsivity are less well understood. To study this crucial aspect of reward processing we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) combined with electrodermal assessment in male and female adult ADHD patients (N=28) and matched healthy control participants (N=28) during delivery of monetary and non-monetary rewards. Further, two behavioral tasks assessed risky decision making (game of dice task) and delay discounting. Results indicated that both groups activated ventral and dorsal striatum and the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) in response to high-incentive (i.e. monetary) rewards. A similar, albeit less strong activation pattern was found for low-incentive (i.e. non-monetary) rewards. Group differences emerged when comparing high and low incentive rewards directly: activation in the mOFC coded for the motivational change in reward delivery in healthy controls, but not ADHD patients. Additionally, this dysfunctional mOFC activity in patients correlated with risky decision making and delay discounting and was paralleled by physiological arousal. Together, these results suggest that the mOFC codes reward value and type in healthy individuals whereas this function is deficient in ADHD. The brain-behavior correlations suggest that this deficit might be related to behavioral impulsivity. Reward value processing difficulties in ADHD should be considered when assessing reward anticipation and emotional learning in research and applied settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Reward*