Does reward frequency or magnitude drive reinforcement-learning in ADHD?

M. Luman, C.S. van Meel, J. Oosterlaan, J.A. Sergeant, H.M. Geurts

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show an impaired ability to use feedback in the context of learning. A stimulus-response learning task was used to investigate whether (1) children with ADHD displayed flatter learning curves, (2) reinforcement-learning in ADHD was sensitive to either reward frequency, magnitude, or both, and (3) altered sensitivity to reward was specific to ADHD or would co-occur in a group of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Performance of 23 boys with ADHD was compared with that of 30 normal controls (NCs) and 21 boys with ASD, all aged 8-12. Rewards were delivered contingent on performance and varied both in frequency (low, high) and magnitude (small, large). The findings showed that, although learning rates were comparable across groups, both clinical groups committed more errors than NCs. In contrast to the NC boys, boys with ADHD were unaffected by frequency and magnitude of reward. The NC group and, to some extent, the ASD group showed improved performance, when rewards were delivered infrequently versus frequently. Children with ADHD as well as children with ASD displayed difficulties in stimulus-response coupling that were independent of motivational modulations. Possibly, these deficits are related to abnormal reinforcement expectancy. © 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-229
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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