Published:  2008

Decision-making in ADHD: sensitive to frequency but blind to the magnitude of penalty?

Authors:  Marjolein Luman, Jaap Oosterlaan, Dirk L. Knol, Joseph A. Sergeant

Tags:  ADHD, decision-making, feedback, penalty, reward

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Background: Decision-making and reinforcement sensitivity were investigated in 23 children with ADHD and 20 healthy controls using a gambling paradigm. Methods: Children were required to choose between three alternatives that carried (A) small rewards and small penalties (advantageous), (B) large rewards and increasing penalties and (C) small rewards and increasing penalties (both disadvantageous). Penalties increased either in frequency or magnitude in two independent conditions. Heart rate (HR) and skin conductance (SC) were measured to examine whether impaired decision-making was accompanied by autonomic abnormalities. Results: Children with ADHD showed a maladaptive response style compared to controls by demonstrating a smaller preference for the advantageous alternative, when penalties increased in magnitude. When penalties increased in frequency, children with ADHD performed like controls. Group differences in decision-making attenuated after the task was administered twice. Compared to controls, performance of children with ADHD in the magnitude condition was accompanied by increased HR acceleration following reward. In this condition, the post-selection SC of children with ADHD was larger for advantageous than for disadvantageous alternatives, in contrast to controls who showed an opposite SC pattern. Conclusions: The current findings suggest that during decision-making, children with ADHD may be sensitive to the frequency but blind to the magnitude of penalty.