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Psychol Med. 2018 Dec 5:1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718003598. [Epub ahead of print]

The devil is in the detail: exploring the intrinsic neural mechanisms that link attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology to ongoing cognition.

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Department of Psychology,University of York,Heslington, York,UK.
Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Psychology and Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London,London,UK.



Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental condition that profoundly affects quality of life. Although mounting evidence now suggests uncontrolled mind-wandering as a core aspect of the attentional problems associated with ADHD, the neural mechanisms underpinning this deficit remains unclear. To that extent, competing views argue for (i) excessive generation of task-unrelated mental content, or (ii) deficiency in the control of task-relevant cognition.


In a cross-sectional investigation of a large neurotypical cohort (n = 184), we examined alterations in the intrinsic brain functional connectivity architecture of the default mode (DMN) and frontoparietal (FPN) networks during resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging in relation to ADHD symptomatology, which could potentially underlie changes in ongoing thought within variable environmental contexts.


The results illustrated that ADHD symptoms were linked to lower levels of detail in ongoing thought while the participants made more difficult, memory based decisions. Moreover, greater ADHD scores were associated with lower levels of connectivity between the DMN and right sensorimotor cortex, and between the FPN and right ventral visual cortex. Finally, a combination of high levels of ADHD symptomology with reduced FPN connectivity to the visual cortex was associated with reduced levels of detail in thought.


The results of our study suggest that the frequent mind-wandering observed in ADHD may be an indirect consequence of the deficient control of ongoing cognition in response to increasing environmental demands, and that this may partly arise from dysfunctions in the intrinsic organisation of the FPN at rest.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; default mode network; frontoparietal network; functional connectivity; mind-wandering; ongoing thought


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