Evaluating cognitive and motivational accounts of greater reinforcement effects among children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Whitney D. Fosco, Larry W. Hawk, Keri S. Rosch, Michelle G. Bubnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is associated with cognitive deficits and dysregulated motivation. Reinforcement improves cognitive performance, often to a greater degree among children with ADHD compared to typically-developing controls. The current study tests the degree to which cognitive (individual differences in baseline cognition) and/or motivational (individual differences in Sensitivity to Reward; SR) processes can account for diagnostic group differences in reinforcement effects. Methods: Participants were 58 children (25 ADHD, 33 control) ages 9-12. Children completed measures of inhibitory control (Stop Signal Task), working memory (n-back), and sustained attention (Continuous Performance Task) during a baseline week and again one week later under reinforcement and no-reinforcement conditions; composites were computed across cognitive domains. Parent-and child-reported trait SR (SPSRQ; BIS/BAS) were combined to index a child's response towards appetitive, rewarding stimuli. Results: In separate analyses, diagnostic group, individual differences in baseline cognition, and individual differences in SR all moderated the impact of reinforcement on cognition. When considered together, the Diagnostic Group × Reinforcement and Baseline Cognition × Reinforcement interactions both remained robust. In contrast, neither the Diagnostic Group × Reinforcement nor the SR × Reinforcement interactions accounted for unique variance when evaluated together. Conclusions: Both baseline cognition and trait SR predict reinforcement effects on cognition, but only SR shares significant variance with diagnostic group. These results suggest that ADHD children's greater response to reinforcement on cognition is strongly related to their heightened trait sensitivity to rewarding stimuli, consistent with motivational models of ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 29 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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