Rule-Based and Information-Integration Perceptual Category Learning in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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Suboptimal functioning of the basal ganglia is implicated in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These structures are important to the acquisition of associative knowledge, leading some to theorize that associative learning deficits might be expected, despite the fact that most extant research in ADHD has focused on effortful control. We present 2 studies that examined the acquisition of explicit rule-based (RB) and associative information integration (II) category learning among school-age children with ADHD.

Method and Results:

In Study 1, we found deficits in both RB and II category learning tasks among children with ADHD (n = 81) versus controls (n = 42). Children with ADHD tended to sort by the more salient but irrelevant dimension (in the RB paradigm) and were unable to acquire a consistent sorting strategy (in the II paradigm). To disentangle whether the deficit was localized to II category learning versus a generalized inability to consider more than 1 stimulus dimension, in Study 2 children completed a conjunctive RB paradigm that required consideration of 2 stimulus dimensions. Children with ADHD (n = 50) continued to underperform controls (n = 33).


Results provide partial support for neurocognitive developmental theories of ADHD that suggest that associative learning deficits should be found, and highlight the importance of using analytic approaches that go beyond asking whether an ADHD-related deficit exists to why such deficits exist.

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