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Why cognitive performance in ADHD may not reveal true potential: Findings from a large population-based sample



Focusing on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a sample obtained from the general population, we aimed to investigate the effects of incentives and event rate on reaction time (RT) performance and response inhibition. We assessed 1156 children, at a mean age of 8 years, on their performance on an inhibition task and a RT task under different experimental conditions that manipulated event rate and incentives. Children with high ADHD (ADHD-H) symptoms showed cognitive performance deficits only under some of the experimental conditions compared to a control group. The fast-incentive condition of the RT task succeeded in normalizing the RT variability, as well as the slow overall speed, in the ADHD-H group. Analyses of ADHD symptom scores as a quantitative trait in the total sample were overall consistent with these findings. The findings suggest that at least some cognitive performance deficits in children with high ADHD symptoms do not reflect stable cognitive deficits. The degree to which cognitive impairments in ADHD can be modulated by energetic or motivational factors has important implications for clinical and educational interventions. (JINS, 2009, 15, 570–579.)


Corresponding author

*Correspondence and reprint requests to: Jonna Kuntsi, MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, De Crespigny Park (Box P080), London SE5 8AF, UK. E-mail:


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