Arnett Lab | Research Findings

Here is a summary of some of the recent (and exciting!) results to come out of the Arnett Lab studies.

Children with ADHD Do Not Recognize Errors as Readily as Control Children

In a peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, led by Dr. Arnett in collaboration with graduate students Candace Rhoads and Tara Rutter, we examined a phenomenon called “post-error slowing.” Post-error slowing happens during tasks requiring repeated responses, such as pressing a corresponding key on a keyboard every time the letter “X” or “O” is presented on the screen. When people make a mistake during one of these tasks, they tend to press the key more slowly at the next trial; in other words, their response time slows after they make an error. However, children with ADHD do not slow down after an error as much as children without ADHD do. People have wondered whether this is due to not recognizing their mistakes, or difficulty adjusting their behavior, or both. We showed (with the help of ACTIVE Study participants!) that the main reason is that children with ADHD do not recognize their mistakes as readily as children without ADHD. 

Brain Signatures of Error Recognition

Next, we will write about what is happening in children’s brains when they make a mistake. Here is a sneak preview – the Error Related Negativity component (measured with EEG) is much more pronounced for non-ADHD compared to ADHD participants. Could that explain the lack of post-error slowing in ADHD?

Figure showing Error Related Negativity component (measured with EEG) is much more pronounced for non-ADHD compared to ADHD participants

Co-existing Psychiatric Symptoms in ADHD

In a report published by the Journal of Attention Disorders, graduate student Tara Rutter and Dr. Arnett report that certain temperament traits are associated with increased likelihood that a child with ADHD will have co-existing psychiatric symptoms. For example, children with ADHD who have more negative affect, less self-control, and are more outgoing are more likely to have co-existing oppositional behaviors. Children with ADHD who have negative affect, but typical levels of self-control and extroversion, are more likely to have co-existing anxious symptoms.

Brain Electrophysiology Subtypes of ADHD

Children with ADHD show one of three patterns of brain activity during tasks that require attention. Some children’s brains seem to have difficulty processing surprising stimuli; others seem to have difficulty holding onto information while they are doing a task; still others seem to have reduced levels of neural excitation that makes it hard to increase attention resources when faced with a more difficult task. This report was presented at the 2020 American Professional Association for ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) conference in Washington, DC.

Brain Signature for Anxiety Symptoms Differs in ADHD

Based on a measure of neural excitation (EEG) that occurs after a child makes an error during a task, anxiety symptoms do not increase a child with ADHD’s subconscious awareness of their own mistakes. This is in contrast to kids without ADHD, who tend to show more subconscious attention to their own mistakes if they are anxious. This finding was presented at the 2020 American Professional Association for ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) conference in Washington, DC.