Executive function in children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder compared to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, and in children with different irritability levels

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2023 Jan 21;1-11. doi: 10.1007/s00787-023-02143-6. Online ahead of print.


Addressing current challenges in research on disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), this study aims to compare executive function in children with DMDD, children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). We also explore associations between irritability, a key DMDD characteristic, and executive function in a clinical sample regardless of diagnosis. Our sample include children (6-12 years) referred to child psychiatric clinics. Measures of daily-life (parent-reported questionnaire) and performance-based (neuropsychological tasks) executive function were applied. Identifying diagnoses, clinicians administered a standardized semi-structured diagnostic interview with parents. Irritability was assessed by parent-report. First, we compared executive function in DMDD (without ADHD/ODD), ADHD (without DMDD/ODD), ODD (without DMDD/ADHD) and DMDD + ADHD (without ODD). Second, we analyzed associations between executive function and irritability using the total sample. In daily life, children with DMDD showed clinically elevated and significantly worse emotion control scores compared to children with ADHD, and clinically elevated scores on cognitive flexibility compared to norm scores. Children with DMDD had significantly less working memory problems than those with ADHD. No differences were found between DMDD and ODD. Increased irritability was positively associated with emotional dyscontrol and cognitive inflexibility. For performance-based executive function, no diagnostic differences or associations with irritability were observed. We discuss how, in daily life, children with high irritability-levels get overwhelmed by feelings without accompanying regulatory capacities.

Keywords: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder; Executive function; Irritability; Oppositional defiant disorder.