What's in a game: The effect of social motivation on cognitive control in boys with ADHD and ASD

H.M. Geurts, M. Luman, C.S. van Meel

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Background: Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are known to have cognitive control deficits. Some studies suggest that such deficits may be reduced when motivation is increased through tangible reinforcers. Whether these deficits can also be modulated by non-tangible reinforcers has hardly been studied. Methods: Therefore, the effect of social motivation on the ability to suppress irrelevant information (i.e., interference control) was investigated in 22 ADHD boys, 22 ASD boys, and 33 typically developing (TD) boys. An adapted Eriksen Flanker task was administered under a motivational condition in which the boys were told that they were competing with peers, and under a neutral condition in which standard instructions were given. Results: In comparison with TD boys, boys with ADHD were impaired even when no interference was present, while this was not the case for the ASD boys. All groups benefited from the motivation manipulation, i.e., their performance increased when they thought they were competing with peers. Although the boys with ADHD were still slower than TD boys when motivated, they performed as accurately as TD boys. Children with ASD also improved slightly in accuracy and response speed, but this did not reach significance. Conclusion: Children with ADHD are able to exert sufficient cognitive control when they are motivated, which is in line with the current models of ADHD. However, motivation seems to have a general effect on performance and is not solely related to cognitive control abilities. In contrast, this effect was not obtained in children with ASD. © 2008 The Authors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)848-857
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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