Executive functioning (EF) is known to be impaired in children and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The majority of research examining EF in children has focused on understanding how “cool” EF, the ability to inhibit a response and general working memory capacity, affects behavior. But more recently, there has been some limited exploration into “hot” EFs, which involve delay aversion and motivation. However, no study has addressed the levels of both hot and cool EF in children with ADHD until now. B.-R. Yang of the Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing sought to address this gap by looking at both hot and cool EFs in children with ADHD.
For the study, Yang assessed 100 children without ADHD and 100 children with ADHD, approximately half of whom also had a family history of ADHD. Yang administered a series of task tests to the children to evaluate their impulsivity, reward response, delay aversion, and working memory. The results revealed that the children with ADHD were less able to inhibit their responses than the controls. This was even more evident in the ADHD children with a family history. The children with ADHD also had more difficulty completing the working memory tasks than the controls. When examining the hot EFs, Yang discovered that the children with ADHD demonstrated an aversion to reward delay and consistently chose smaller, more immediate rewards than the controls, who were able to wait for larger rewards. Again, this finding was even more pronounced in ADHD participants with a family history.
The study indicates that cool and hot EFs are compromised in children who have ADHD and clarifies the nature of their impulsive behaviors with those of their impaired response and delay aversion behaviors. Yang believes that these factors, coupled with the inability to retain information in their working memory, elevate the risk for adverse behaviors in children with ADHD. The study suggests that specific regions of the brain that regulate cool and hot EFs should be explored more thoroughly. Yang added, “In addition, to the extent that different areas of the prefrontal cortex are involved in cool and hot EFs, these present results suggest that ADHD children may suffer from irregularities in the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal areas of the brain.”
Yang, B.-R., Chan, R.C.K., Gracia, N., Cao, X.-Y., Jing, J., Mai, J.-N., et al. Cool and Hot Executive Functions in Medication-Naive Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Children. Psychological Medicine 41.12 (2011): 2593-602. Print.
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