Background: Task switch protocols are frequently used in the assessment of cognitive control, both in clinical and non-clinical populations. These protocols frequently confound task switch and attentional set shift. The current study investigated the ability of adult ADHD patients to shift attentional set in the context of switching tasks.
Method: We tested 38 adults with ADHD and 39 control adults with an extensive diagnostic battery and a task switch protocol without proactive interference. The experiment combined orthogonally task-switch vs. repetition, and attentional set shift vs. no shift. Each experimental stimulus had global and local features (Hierarchical/"Navon" stimuli), associated with corresponding attentional sets.
Results: ADHD patients were slower than controls in task switch trials with a simultaneous shift of attention between global/local attentional sets. This also correlated significantly with diagnostic scales for ADHD symptoms. The patients had more variable reaction times, but when the attentional set was kept constant neither were they significantly slower nor showed higher task switch costs.
Conclusion: ADHD is associated with a deficit in flexible deployment of attention to varying sources of stimulus information.
Keywords: ADHD; Attentional set; Cognitive control; Executive function; Task switching.