Ventral-striatal responsiveness during reward anticipation in ADHD and its relation to trait impulsivity in the healthy population: a meta-analytic review of the fMRI literature

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Jan;38:125-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.07.012. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


A review of the existing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on reward anticipation in patients with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is provided. Meta-analysis showed a significant medium effect size (Cohen's d=0.48-0.58) in terms of ventral-striatal (VS)-hyporesponsiveness in ADHD. Studies on VS-responsiveness and trait impulsivity in the healthy population demonstrate the opposite relationship, i.e. impulsivity-scores positively correlated with VS activation during reward processing. Against the background that ADHD may represent an extreme on a continuum of normal variability, the question arises as to how these contrasting findings can be integrated. We discuss three theoretical approaches, each of which integrates the opposing findings: (1) an inverted-u-shape model; (2) a (genetic) moderator model; and (3) the "unrelated model". We conclude that at the present stage the number of existing studies in the healthy population as well as in ADHD groups is too small for a final answer. Therefore, our presented integrative approaches should be understood as an attempt to frame future research directions by generating testable hypotheses and giving practical suggestions for future studies.

Keywords: ADHD; Hyporesponsiveness; Impulsivity; Reward; Ventral striatum; Ventral–striatal hypoactivation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Basal Ganglia / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult