Category: ADHD - Child

PS6- #B36 - Working Memory Demands Do Not Disrupt Emotion Recognition in Children With ADHD

Friday, Nov 17
2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: ADHD - Child / Adolescent | Emotion | Cognitive Processes

Social problems are well-documented in pediatric ADHD (de Boo & Prins, 2007; Huang-Pollock et al., 2009), but the etiology of these deficits is unclear. Impairments in basic facial affect perception have been proposed, but findings are mixed. Some studies have found that children with ADHD perform worse than controls on emotion recognition tasks (e.g., Da Fonseca et al., 2009; Sinzig et al., 2008), but others have not found such problems (Downs & Smith, 2004; Greenbaum et al., 2009). The current study examines two potential explanations for these discrepancies: (1) tasks that require cognitive processes implicated in ADHD beyond emotion recognition (e.g., choice-decision processes; Kofler et al., 2013; Shaw et al., 2016), and (2) executive functioning deficits that may impair successful execution of basic facial affect recognition (Rapport et al., 2008; Kofler et al., 2011). The current study addresses these hypotheses via four counterbalanced tasks that were identical except for demands placed on our primary DVs: emotion recognition yes/no by concurrent dual-processing demands yes/no.



This study used a well-defined sample of 8-13-year-old children with ADHD (n=32) and without ADHD (n=29). Children completed two working memory complex span tasks (Animal Span, Emotion Span) that required them to identify and recall emotions (faces) or control stimuli (animals) in serial order. Children also completed control variants of both tasks without the working memory demands. This experimental design provides robust control for task-related processes unrelated to emotion recognition, and the dual-task methodology permits conclusions regarding the extent to which concurrent working memory demands interrupt children’s processing of facial expressions.



Results indicated that recognizing emotions was more difficult than recognizing animals for all children (p < .001), and as expected the ADHD group demonstrated underdeveloped working memory abilities (p=.03, d=0.57) during the recall portions of the Animal Span (d=0.42) and Emotion Span (d=0.55) tasks. Adding concurrent working memory demands did not impair children’s identification of emotions or animals (main effect of span, p=.68), indicating that facial affect recognition may be a relatively automatic process. Further, the main effect of group was nonsignificant (p=.20), and group did not interact with task (animal vs. emotion p=.53) or span (working memory no/yes p=.34). These results demonstrate that children with ADHD perform worse on working memory complex span tasks than non-ADHD children, but facial affect recognition is not interrupted by concurrent processing demands. Contrary to expectations, children with ADHD did not exhibit facial affect recognition deficits. Implications will be discussed.

Erica L. Wells

Graduate Student
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida

Nicole M. Ferretti

Florida State University

Alexis M. Spangler

Florida State University

Taylor N. Day

Florida State University

Elia F. Soto

Clinical Psychology Graduate Student
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida

Lauren N. Irwin

Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida

Michael J. Kofler

Florida State University