AD/HD and the capture of attention by briefly exposed delay-related cues: evidence from a conditioning paradigm


Edmund J.S. Sonuga-Barke, Centre for Research into Psychological Development, Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK; Email:


Background:  The selective attention of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) to briefly exposed delay-related cues was examined in two experiments using a dot-probe conditioning paradigm.

Method:  Colour cues were paired with negatively (i.e., imposition of delay) and positively valenced cues (i.e., escape from or avoidance of delay) during a conditioning phase. These cues were presented alongside neutral cues in a subsequent dot-probe detection phase.

Results:  In experiment 1 teacher-identified children with AD/HD (N = 12), but not controls (N = 12), displayed an attentional bias towards both positively and negatively valenced cues. In experiment 2 children with a diagnosis of hyperkinetic disorder (N = 15), but not controls (N = 15), displayed a bias towards delay-related cues. However, this effect was largely carried by the response to positively valenced cues.

Conclusions:  These results confirm the dot-probe conditioning paradigm as a useful test of motivational influence on attention. They provide the first evidence of qualitative differences in the attentional style of children with AD/HD and give further support to those theories that highlight the motivational significance of delay in AD/HD.