Clinical utility of EEG in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a research update

Neurotherapeutics. 2012 Jul;9(3):569-87. doi: 10.1007/s13311-012-0131-z.


Psychiatric research applications of electroencephalography (EEG), the earliest approach to imaging human cortical brain activity, are attracting increasing scientific and clinical interest. For more than 40 years, EEG research has attempted to characterize and quantify the neurophysiology of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), most consistently associating it with increased frontocentral theta band activity and increased theta to beta (θ/β) power ratio during rest compared to non-ADHD controls. Recent reports suggest that while these EEG measures demonstrate strong discriminant validity for ADHD, significant EEG heterogeneity also exists across ADHD-diagnosed individuals. In particular, additional studies validating the use of the θ/β power ratio measure appear to be needed before it can be used for clinical diagnosis. In recent years, the number and the scientific quality of research reports on EEG-based neurofeedback (NF) for ADHD have grown considerably, although the studies reviewed here do not yet support NF training as a first-line, stand-alone treatment modality. In particular, more research is needed comparing NF to placebo control and other effective treatments for ADHD. Currently, after a long period of relative stasis, the neurophysiological specificity of measures used in EEG research is rapidly increasing. It is likely, therefore, that new EEG studies of ADHD using higher density recordings and new measures drawn from viewing EEG as a 3-dimensional functional imaging modality, as well as intensive re-analyses of existing EEG study data, can better characterize the neurophysiological differences between and within ADHD and non-ADHD subjects, and lead to more precise diagnostic measures and effective NF approaches.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Biomedical Research* / methods
  • Biomedical Research* / trends
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Electroencephalography / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans