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A pilot study of behavioral, physiological, and subjective responses to varying mental effort requirements in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

  • Mies, Gabry W.
  • Moors, Pieter
  • Sonuga-Barke, Edmund J.
  • van der Oord, Saskia
  • Wiersema, Roeljan
  • Scheres, Anouk
  • Lemiere, Jurgen
  • Danckaerts, Marina
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02769
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Background: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is presumed to involve mental effort application difficulties. To test this assumption, we manipulated task difficulty and measured behavioral, as well as subjective and psychophysiological indices of effort. Methods: Fifteen adolescent ADHD boys and 16 controls performed two tasks. First, subjective estimates and behavioral and pupillary measures of effort were recorded across five levels of N-back task difficulties. Second, effort discounting was assessed. In the latter, participants made repeated choices between performing a difficult N-back task for a high reward versus an easier N-back task for a smaller reward. Results: Increasing task difficulty led to similar deteriorations in performance for both groups - although ADHD participants performed more poorly at all difficulty levels than controls. While ADHD and control participants rated the tasks equally difficult and discounted effort similarly, those with ADHD displayed slightly different pupil dilation patterns with increasing task difficulty. Conclusion: The behavioral results did not provide evidence for mental effort problems in adolescent boys with ADHD. The subtle physiological effects, however, suggest that adolescents with ADHD may allocate effort in a different way than controls.

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