Evidence against emotion inference deficits in children with ADHD.

Erica L. Wells, Nicole B. Groves, Taylor N. Day, Sherelle L. Harmon, Elia F. Soto, Caroline E. Miller, Michael J. Kofler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inconsistent evidence suggests that pediatric attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be associated with impairments in the ability to use context clues to infer the emotion states of others. However, the evidence base for these impairments is comprised of data from laboratory-based tests of emotion inference that may be confounded by demands on nonaffective cognitive processes that have been linked with ADHD. The current study builds on our previous study of facial affect recognition to address this limitation and investigate a potential mechanism underlying children’s ability to infer emotion state from context clues. To do so, we used a fully crossed, counterbalanced experimental design that systematically manipulated emotion inference and working memory demands in 77 carefully phenotyped children ages 8–13 (Mage = 10.46, SD = 1.54; 66% Caucasian/Non-Hispanic; 42% female) with ADHD (n = 42) and without ADHD (n = 35). Results of Bayesian mixed-model ANOVAs indicated that using context clues to infer the emotion state of others competed for neurocognitive resources with the processes involved in rehearsing/maintaining information within working memory (BF₁₀ = 1.57 × 10¹⁹, d = 0.72). Importantly, there was significant evidence against the critical Group × Condition interaction for response times (BF₀₁ = 4.93), and no significant evidence for this interaction for accuracy (BF₀₁ = 2.40). In other words, children with ADHD do not infer emotions more slowly than children without ADHD (d = 0.13), and their small magnitude impairment in accuracy (d = 0.30) was attributable to their generally less accurate performance on choice-response tasks (i.e., across both emotion and control conditions). Taken together, the evidence indicates that emotion inference abilities are likely unimpaired in pediatric ADHD and that working memory is implicated in the ability to infer emotion from context for all children—not just children with ADHD. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-677
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • emotion inference
  • emotion recognition
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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