Deficient attention is hard to find: applying the perceptual load model of selective attention to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder subtypes


Cynthia L. Huang-Pollock, 545 Moore Building, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA; Tel: 814-865-8498; Fax: 814-863-7002; Email:


Background:  Whether selective attention is a primary deficit in childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) remains in active debate.

Methods:  We used the perceptual load paradigm to examine both early and late selective attention in children with the Primarily Inattentive (ADHD-I) and Combined subtypes (ADHD-C) of ADHD.

Results:  No evidence emerged for selective attention deficits in either of the subtypes, but sluggish cognitive tempo was associated with abnormal early selection.

Conclusions:  At least some, and possibly most, children with DSM-IV ADHD have normal selective attention. Results support the move away from theories of attention dysfunction as primary in ADHD-C. In ADHD-I, this was one of the first formal tests of posterior attention network dysfunction, and results did not support that theory. However, ADHD children with sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) warrant more study for possible early selective attention deficits.