Temporal discounting of monetary rewards in children and adolescents with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders


Ellen Demurie, Ghent University, Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium; e-mail: ellen.demurie@ugent.be


It has been difficult to differentiate attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in terms of some aspects of their cognitive profile. While both show deficits in executive functions, it has been suggested that they may differ in their response to monetary reward. For instance, children with ADHD prefer small immediate over large delayed rewards more than typically developing controls. One explanation for this is that they discount the value of rewards to a higher degree as they are moved into the future. The current study investigated whether children with ADHD can be differentiated from those with ASD in terms of reward discounting. Thirty-nine children (8–16 y) with ADHD, 34 children with ASD and 46 typically developing controls performed a hypothetical monetary temporal discounting task. Participants were instructed to make repeated choices between small variable rewards (0, 5, 10, 20, 30€) delivered immediately and large rewards delivered after a variable delay. Children with ADHD but not ASD discounted future rewards at a higher rate than typically developing controls. These data confirm steeper discounting of future rewards in ADHD and add to a small but growing literature showing that the psychological profile of ADHD can be distinguished from that of ASD in terms of disrupted motivational processes.