BACKGROUND: The present study investigated the impact of divergent instructions and response cost on strategic cognitive control in children with ADHD.
METHODS: Children with ADHD (N = 34), combined subtype, and control children (N = 34) performed a series of self-paced computerized visual search tasks. The tasks varied by verbal instructions: after a baseline task, children were either instructed to work as fast as possible (speed instruction) or as accurately as possible (accuracy instruction). In addition, tasks were performed with and without response cost.
RESULTS: Both groups modulated latencies and errors according to instructions in a comparable way, except for latency in the accuracy - instruction without response cost, where control children showed a larger increase of response time. Response cost did not affect the modulation of response style in children with ADHD to a larger extent than in controls. However, with instructions group differences related to target criteria became clearly more accentuated compared to baseline but disappeared when response cost was added.
CONCLUSIONS: Delay aversion theory and motivational or state regulation models may account for different aspects of the results. Modifications related to task presentation, such as the emphasis put on different details in the verbal instruction, may lead to divergent results when comparing performances of children with ADHD and control children on a self-paced task.