Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Interactions Between “Cool” Cognitive and “Hot” Affective Aspects of Executive Functions

Marisa Filipe1, Anabela Mendes Barbosa2, Andreia Borges Pinto3, Selene Vicente4

1 PhD, Universidade de Lisboa, Universidade do Porto

2 MSc, Department of Talent management and Development, Sonae, Porto

3 MSc, Department of Psychology, Hospital Pedro Hispano, Matosinhos

4 PhD, Universidade do Porto

Problems with executive functions (EF) are commonly found in individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and several theoretical explanations have focused on EF as the main explanatory domain for this disorder. Traditionally, research on EF has focused on “cool” cognitive aspects such as working memory, inhibition, planning, and problem solving, and these “cool” impairments on EF showed robust associations with ADHD. However, it is unlikely that these impairments are a sufficient cause of this disorder. More recently, definitions of EF make the distinction between cognitive aspects and “hot” affective aspects seen in situations emotionally and motivationally significant, such as reward anticipation. This distinction allows a broader conception of EF that has potential to highlight the role of EF in ADHD. In this study, “cool” cognitive and “hot” affective aspects of EF were assessed in 6- to 10-year-olds (M = 8.4 years, SD = 1.28, n = 13) with this condition. All ADHD – combined type participants were matched to typically developing peers on age, schooling, gender, and socioeconomic level (n = 16). Working memory, mental flexibility, inhibition, planning, problem solving, and affective decision-making were assessed using the following measures: Digit Span, Verbal Fluency, Tower of London, Trail Making Test, Children’s Color Trails Test, Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, and Delay of Gratification Task (DGT). ADHD children performed significantly poorly in all EF tasks than typically developing peers. The difference was larger for “hot” affective aspects of EF assessed by DGT (M = 1.85 vs. 6.81 number of times the reward was delayed in a total of 9 trials). The centrality of the EF deficit in ADHD, as well as the complex interactions between “cool” cognitive EF and emotional-reward dysregulation in ADHD, should be explored.

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