Published:  2020-09-01

Risk Taking by Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a Behavioral and Psychophysiological Investigation of Peer Influence

Authors:  Tycho J. Dekkers, Arne Popma, Edmund J.S. Sonuga-Barke, Helena Oldenhof, Anika Bexkens, Brenda R. J. Jansen, Hilde M. Huizenga

Tags:  Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autonomic reactivity, Balloon analogue risk task (BART), Peer influence, Risk taking, Stress

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Adolescents with ADHD demonstrate increased risk-taking behavior (RTB) like substance abuse and dangerous traffic conduct. RTB in adolescence is more likely under peer influence. The current investigation (1) tests the hypothesis that adolescents with ADHD are particularly susceptible to such influence and (2) tests whether groups differed in autonomic reactivity to peer influence. Adolescent boys between 12 and 19 years with (n = 81) and without (n = 99) ADHD performed the Balloon Analogue Risk Task twice. In the peer condition, a highly credible virtual peer manipulation that encouraged risk taking was added, in the solo condition this was absent. Autonomic reactivity was indexed by heart rate (HR), pre-ejection period (PEP) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). All adolescents engaged in more risk taking in the peer condition relative to solo condition. Autonomic differences between groups were only found on PEP: a stronger sympathetic response to peer influence was observed in typically developing adolescents relative to adolescents with ADHD. Increased physiological stress (as indexed by PEP) in the peer relative to the solo condition predicted peer-induced risk taking in all adolescents. We conclude that susceptibility to peer influence is not exaggerated in ADHD but rather reflects a general tendency of adolescents. As adolescents experiencing peer influence as stressful are most susceptible to peer influence, we suggest that increasing resistance to peer influence may be an important treatment aim for these adolescents specifically.