Children with ADHD Avoided Punishment while Playing Games

SEPTEMBER 28, 2016
Rachel Lutz
neurology, ADHDChildren with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more sensitive to the cumulative effects of punishment than typically developing children, according to according to findings published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University studied 210 children in order to evaluate the effects of punishment on the response allocation of children with ADHD compared to typically developing children. All of the children, of which 145 were diagnosed with ADHD, played two simultaneously available games. In both of the games, if a child won, the computer awarded 10 points and played an animation. If a child lost, the computer took away five points and played a laughing sound. The children began with a score of 20 points and played until they reached 400 points or completed 300 rounds. All children won prizes at the end of the game, and there were also incentives in place so the children were prevented from switching games every round or playing one game for the entire 300 trials. Typically, this lasted 30 minutes, the researchers explained.

“The chance of winning rewards was equal for the two games, but one of the games was designed to have a four times higher likelihood of losing: playing on that game, a child would be ‘punished’ more often than with the other one,” study author Gail Tripp explained in a press release.

The researchers observed no difference between the two groups of children among the first 100 rounds. Afterward though, the children with ADHD demonstrated preference for the less punishing alternative game while the typical children tended to remain stable for the duration of the trials.

The researchers reported that by the 200th trial, the children with ADHD were much less likely to play the more punishing game; they believe this suggests that children with ADHD avoid punishment more often over time than typically developing children. The typically developing children appeared less distracted by the punishment, the researchers added, and their focus remained on winning the game.

“If a child with ADHD is reluctant in doing a task, or if the child gives up easily, it might be important for the parent or the teacher to check if the task has the appropriate balance of reward and punishment,” Tripp said. “We are not saying that the task has punishment built in, rather that the effort needed to do the task might be perceived as punishing by the child. The more effortful a task is, the more incentives a child is going to need to keep persisting, and simple but frequent rewards, such as smiles or words of encouragements, can help children with ADHD to stay on the task.” 

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