Diagnostic value of resting electroencephalogram in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the lifespan

Brain Topogr. 2013 Jan;26(1):135-51. doi: 10.1007/s10548-012-0258-6. Epub 2012 Oct 9.


The resting electroencephalogram (EEG) reflects development and arousal, but whether it can support clinical diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains controversial. Here we examined whether theta power and theta/beta ratio are consistently elevated in ADHD and younger age as proposed. Topographic 48-channel EEG from 32 children (8-16 years) and 22 adults (32-55 years) with ADHD and matched healthy controls (n = 30 children/21 adults) was compared. Following advanced artefact correction, resting EEG was tested for increased theta and theta/beta activity due to ADHD and due to normal immaturity. Discriminant analyses tested classification performance by ADHD and age using these EEG markers as well as EEG artefacts and deviant attentional event-related potentials (ERPs). No consistent theta or theta/beta increases were found with ADHD. Even multivariate analyses indicated only marginal EEG power increases in children with ADHD. Instead, consistent developmental theta decreases were observed, indicating that maturational lags of fewer than 3 years would have been detected in children. Discriminant analysis based on proposed simple spectral resting EEG markers was successful for age but not for ADHD (81 vs. 53 % accuracy). Including ERP markers and EEG artefacts improved discrimination, although not to diagnostically useful levels. The lack of consistent spectral resting EEG abnormalities in ADHD despite consistent developmental effects casts doubt upon conventional neurometric approaches towards EEG-based ADHD diagnosis, but is consistent with evidence that ADHD is a heterogeneous disorder, where the resting state is not consistently characterised by maturational lag.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Child
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Rest*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity