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Taxometric and behavioral genetic studies suggest that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is best modeled as a dimension rather than a category. We extended these analyses by testing for the existence of putative ADHD-related deficits in basic information processing (BIP) and inhibitory-based executive function (IB-EF) in individuals in the subclinical and full clinical ranges. Consistent with the dimensional model, we predicted that ADHD-related deficits would be expressed across the full spectrum, with the degree of deficit linearly related to the severity of the clinical presentation.
A total of 1547 children (aged 6–12 years) participated in the study. The Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) was used to classify children into groups according to levels of inattention and hyperactivity independently: (1) asymptomatic, (2) subthreshold minimal, (3) subthreshold moderate and (4) clinical ADHD. Neurocognitive performance was evaluated using a two-choice reaction time task (2C-RT) and a conflict control task (CCT). BIP and IB-EF measures were derived using a diffusion model (DM) for decomposition of reaction time (RT) and error data.
Deficient BIP was found in subjects with minimal, moderate and full ADHD defined in terms of inattention (in both tasks) and hyperactivity/impulsivity dimensions (in the 2C-RT). The size of the deficit increased in a linear manner across increasingly severe presentations of ADHD. IB-EF was unrelated to ADHD.
Deficits in BIP operate at subclinical and clinical levels of ADHD. The linear nature of this relationship provides support for a dimensional model of ADHD in which diagnostic thresholds are defined in terms of clinical and societal burden rather than representing discrete pathophysiological states.
Both inhibitory-based executive functioning (IB-EF) and basic information processing (BIP) deficits are found in clinic-referred attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) samples. However, it remains to be determined whether: (1) such deficits occur in non-referred samples of ADHD; (2) they are specific to ADHD; (3) the co-morbidity between ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder (ODD/CD) has additive or interactive effects; and (4) IB-EF deficits are primary in ADHD or are due to BIP deficits.
We assessed 704 subjects (age 6–12 years) from a non-referred sample using the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) and classified them into five groups: typical developing controls (TDC; n = 378), Fear disorders (n = 90), Distress disorders (n = 57), ADHD (n = 100), ODD/CD (n = 40) and ADHD+ODD/CD (n = 39). We evaluated neurocognitive performance with a Two-Choice Reaction Time Task (2C-RT), a Conflict Control Task (CCT) and a Go/No-Go (GNG) task. We used a diffusion model (DM) to decompose BIP into processing efficiency, speed–accuracy trade-off and encoding/motor function along with variability parameters.
Poorer processing efficiency was found to be specific to ADHD. Faster encoding/motor function differentiated ADHD from TDC and from fear/distress whereas a more cautious (not impulsive) response style differentiated ADHD from both TDC and ODD/CD. The co-morbidity between ADHD and ODD/CD reflected only additive effects. All ADHD-related IB-EF classical effects were fully moderated by deficits in BIP.
Our findings challenge the IB-EF hypothesis for ADHD and underscore the importance of processing efficiency as the key specific mechanism for ADHD pathophysiology.
Preliminary research implicates threat-related attention biases in paediatric anxiety disorders. However, major questions exist concerning diagnostic specificity, effects of symptom-severity levels, and threat-stimulus exposure durations in attention paradigms. This study examines these issues in a large, community school-based sample.
A total of 2046 children (ages 6–12 years) were assessed using the Development and Well Being Assessment (DAWBA), Childhood Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and dot-probe tasks. Children were classified based on presence or absence of ‘fear-related’ disorders, ‘distress-related’ disorders, and behavioural disorders. Two dot-probe tasks, which differed in stimulus exposure, assessed attention biases for happy-face and threat-face cues. The main analysis included 1774 children.
For attention bias scores, a three-way interaction emerged among face-cue emotional valence, diagnostic group, and internalizing symptom severity (F = 2.87, p < 0.05). This interaction reflected different associations between internalizing symptom severity and threat-related attention bias across diagnostic groups. In children with no diagnosis (n = 1411, mean difference = 11.03, s.e. = 3.47, df = 1, p < 0.001) and those with distress-related disorders (n = 66, mean difference = 10.63, s.e. = 5.24, df = 1, p < 0.05), high internalizing symptoms predicted vigilance towards threat. However, in children with fear-related disorders (n = 86, mean difference = −11.90, s.e. = 5.94, df = 1, p < 0.05), high internalizing symptoms predicted an opposite tendency, manifesting as greater bias away from threat. These associations did not emerge in the behaviour-disorder group (n = 211).
The association between internalizing symptoms and biased orienting varies with the nature of developmental psychopathology. Both the form and severity of psychopathology moderates threat-related attention biases in children.
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