Numerous studies have revealed autonomic underarousal in conduct-disordered adolescents and antisocial adults. It is unknown, however, whether similar autonomic markers are present in at-risk preschoolers. In this study, the authors compared autonomic profiles of 4- to 6-year-old children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD; n = 18) with those of age-matched controls (n = 20). Children with ADHD and ODD exhibited fewer electrodermal responses and lengthened cardiac preejection periods at baseline and during reward. Although group differences were not found in baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia, heart rate changes among ADHD and ODD participants were mediated exclusively by parasympathetic withdrawal, with no independent sympathetic contribution. Heart rate changes among controls were mediated by both autonomic branches. These results suggest that at-risk preschoolers are autonomically similar to older externalizing children.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry