The reinforcing value of delay escape in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: an electrophysiological study

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

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    The delay aversion hypothesis argues that the tendency for impulsive choice (preference for smaller sooner over larger later rewards) is motivated by the escape of negative affective states associated with delay. This model predicts that individuals with ADHD find the imposition of delay before an outcome or event especially aversive and its escape reinforcing. Consistent with this, fMRI studies show that ADHD is associated with amygdala hyper-sensitivity to cues of delay. However, evidence that delay escape is reinforcing is lacking. Here we extend fMRI research by using electrophysiological methods to study the reinforcing properties of delay-escape in ADHD. Thirty controls and 25 adolescents with ADHD aged 10–15 years performed the Escape Delay Incentive (EDI) task- in which pre-target cues indicated three conditions: i) CERTAIN DELAY: delay would follow a response irrespective of response speed ii) CONDITIONAL DELAY: delay would only follow if the response was too slow and iii) NO DELAY: delay would follow the response whatever the speed. We focused on the Contingent Negative Variation (CNV), a cue-evoked marker of motivated response preparation, across two time windows (CNV1 and CNV2). We took measures of parent, teacher and self-rated ADHD symptoms, task performance (RT) and self-rated delay aversion. We isolated CNV components and compared these between ADHD and controls. Adolescents with ADHD displayed a larger CNV2 to the CONDITIONAL DELAY than the CERTAIN DELAY cues compared to controls. However, this effect was not mirrored at the performance level and was unrelated to self-reported delay aversion. Our study provides the first ERP evidence that delay escape differentially reinforcers neural activation of attention preparation in ADHD cases. Future studies should examine the impact of varying cognitive load on task EDI performance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number101917
    Pages (from-to)1-7
    Number of pages7
    JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. 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)
    • delay aversion
    • contingent negative variation
    • negative reinforcement
    • adolescents


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