An electrophysiological investigation of reinforcement effects in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

dissociating cue sensitivity from down-stream effects on target engagement and performance

Georgia Chronaki, Fruzsina Soltesz, Nicholas Benikos, Edmund J. S. Sonuga-Barke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Objective Neural hypo-sensitivity to cues predicting positive reinforcement has been observed in ADHD using the Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) task. Here we report the first study using an electrophysiological analogue of this task to distinguish between (i) cue related anticipation of reinforcement and downstream effects on (ii) target engagement and (iii) performance in a clinical sample of adolescents with ADHD and controls. Methods Thirty-one controls and 32 adolescents with ADHD aged 10–16 years performed the electrophysiological (e)-MID task − in which preparatory cues signal whether a response to an upcoming target will be reinforced or not − under three conditions; positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement (response cost) and no consequence (neutral). We extracted values for both cue-related potentials known to be, both, associated with response preparation and modulated by reinforcement (Cue P3 and Cue CNV) and target-related potentials (target P3) and compared these between ADHD and controls. Results ADHD and controls did not differ on cue-related components on neutral trials. Against expectation, adolescents with ADHD displayed Cue P3 and Cue CNV reinforcement-related enhancement (versus neutral trials) compared to controls. ADHD individuals displayed smaller target P3 amplitudes and slower and more variable performance − but effects were not modulated by reinforcement contingencies. When age, IQ and conduct problems were controlled effects were marginally significant but the pattern of results did not change. Discussion ADHD was associated with hypersensitivity to positive (and marginally negative) reinforcement reflected on components often thought to be associated with response preparation − however these did not translate into improved attention to targets. In the case of ADHD, upregulated CNV may be a specific marker of hyper-arousal rather than an enhancement of anticipatory attention to upcoming targets. Future studies should examine the effects of age, IQ and conduct problems on reinforcement sensitivity in ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • event-related potentials (ERP)
  • reward
  • Cue P3
  • Cue-CNV
  • target-P3

Cite this