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Motivation and Cognitive Control in Children With and Without ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders. A diverse range of behavioral symptoms characterizes this neurodevelopmental disorder, including constant fidgeting or restlessness, difficulty focusing, deficits in self-control, and emotional difficulties. Differences in executive function may play a key role in ADHD. Executive function encompasses goal-oriented behavior such as planning, mental flexibility, organization, working memory, and inhibitory control. Decreased inhibitory control has been underlined as a core deficit in ADHD, which involves a decreased ability to stop an inappropriate but dominant response. However, motivation impairments or under-responsivity to incentives may be underlying factors in this disorder, consistent with potentially disrupted dopamine in individuals with ADHD. Yet, there has been little research on the motivation-cognitive control interaction in ADHD and how this interaction is affected in children.

The present study is investigating motivation-cognitive control interaction in a sample of children ages 8-16 years with and without ADHD. In this study, participants are completing a reward-incentivized cognitive control task called the AX Continuous Performance Task (AX-CPT). The AX-CPT is a cue-probe task allowing for characterization of the timing of cognitive control – specifically, separating between preparatory or proactive cognitive control, in response to the anticipatory cue, versus reactive control, allocated in response to the later target. Differences in proactive and reactive cognitive control have been previously characterized with age and psychopathology, and in neurotypical individuals, evidence suggests that reward might specifically benefit preparatory or proactive control. Along with AX-CPT performance, we are collecting pupillometry data using an eye-tracker. Changes in pupil dilation are an established measure of cognitive effort with high temporal resolution. We are interested in using both task and pupil measures to investigate whether children with ADHD show similar or different cognitive control timing, as well as increases in proactive control with reward, to neurotypical children or not.