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J Clin Child Psychol. 1999 Sep;28(3):366-75.

Sensitivity to reward frequency in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Compared the sensitivity of boys with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to differences in reward frequency. Fifteen boys with ADHD as diagnosed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 1987) and a matched control group completed a signal-detection task in which correct identification of 1 stimulus was rewarded 3 times as often as correct identification of the other. Boys in the ADHD group completed the task twice, on and off medication. Group differences emerged in response bias toward the more frequently rewarded alternative. Boys in the control group showed a stable pattern of response bias, irrespective of which alternative they were last rewarded on. Boys in the ADHD group showed different patterns of response bias following rewards on the 2 alternatives. These results suggest children with ADHD were more sensitive to individual instances of reward compared with controls, whose response bias is governed more by their reinforcement history. Methylphenidate improved discriminability and reduced sensitivity to individual instances of reward in the boys with ADHD.

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