Brain differences and ADHD

University of Washington researcher Theodore Beauchaine has found differences in the brain activity of teenage boys with ADHD. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) was used to examine brain activity of teens with and without ADHD. Two brain areas were the focus of the study. The striatal region is involved in motivating people to engage in behaviour that is pleasurable or rewarding. The anterior cingulate cortex is activated when the reward stops - it "extinguishes" behaviour that is no longer rewarding.

Boys aged 12 to 16, either with or without ADHD, were required to play a computer game that offered the chance of winning up to a $50 reward. Eventually, the reward was removed. Although the behaviour and performance was the same regardless of the diagnosis, different brain areas were active for the boys with ADHD. On trials without reward, boys in the comparison group showed activation in the anterior cingulate cortex. The boys with ADHD continued to show activity only in the striatal region.

What are the implications of the differing brain activity? The findings suggest that boys with ADHD continue to be motivated to engage in behaviour even when it is no longer rewarding. A major strategy for adults working with teens who engage in inappropriate behaviour is to remove the positive outcomes related to the behaviour. These findings suggest that removing rewards won't necessarily change the behaviour of a boy with ADHD. Previous behaviour research indicates that the best way to reduce an inappropriate behaviour is to reinforce a more positive action that's inconsistent with the negative action. Rewarding the positive may be even more important for kids with ADHD in light of this brain research!

You can read more about the study here.

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