Are Emotion Recognition Abilities Intact in Pediatric ADHD?

Erica L. Wells, Taylor N. Day, Sherelle L. Harmon, Nicole B. Groves, Michael J. Kofler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Extant studies suggest that children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may make more errors and respond more slowly on tasks that require them to identify emotions based on facial affect. It is unclear, however, whether these findings reflect a unique deficit in emotion recognition, or more general difficulty with choice-response tasks (i.e., tasks that require participants to select among a set of competing options). In addition, ADHD is associated with executive dysfunction, but there is inconsistent evidence regarding the extent to which top-down cognitive control is involved in emotion recognition. The current study used a series of four counterbalanced tasks to systematically manipulate emotional content and working memory demands to determine (a) whether children with ADHD exhibit a unique facial affect recognition deficit and (b) the extent to which facial affect recognition is an automatic versus controlled process that depends in part on working memory. Bayesian results from a carefully phenotyped sample of 64 children ages 8 to 13 (M = 10.42, SD = 1.56; 26 girls; 67% Caucasian/non-Hispanic) with ADHD (n = 35) and without ADHD (n = 29) indicated that working memory is involved in children's ability to efficiently infer emotional state from facial affect (BF10 = 4.59 × 1014). Importantly, there was significant evidence against deficits in emotion recognition for children with ADHD. The ADHD/non-ADHD groups were statistically equivalent in terms of recognition accuracy (BF01 = 1.32 × 1054, d = -0.18), and the ADHD group's slower recognition speed was parsimoniously explained by difficulty with choice-response tasks rather than unique to emotional stimuli (BF10 = 3.23, d = 0.31). These findings suggest that emotion recognition abilities are intact in children with ADHD, and highlight the need to control for impaired bottom-up (choice-response) and top-down abilities (working memory) when investigating emotional functioning in ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • Choice-response
  • Emotion recognition
  • Facial affect
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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