European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 398–404

Selective difficulty in recognising facial expressions of emotion in boys with ADHD

General performance impairments or specific problems in social cognition?

DOI: 10.1007/s00787-007-0612-5

Cite this article as:
Yuill, N. & Lyon, J. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2007) 16: 398. doi:10.1007/s00787-007-0612-5


Research on emotion understanding in ADHD shows inconsistent results. This study uses control methods to investigate two questions about recognition and understanding of emotional expressions in 36 five- to eleven-year-old boys with ADHD: [1] Do they find this task more difficult than judging non-emotional information from faces, thus suggesting a specific social-cognitive impairment? [2] Are their judgements about faces impaired by general limitations on task performance, such as impulsive responding? In Part 1, 19 boys with ADHD and 19 age-matched typically developing boys matched facial expressions of emotion to situations, and did a control non-emotional face-processing task. Boys with ADHD performed more poorly than age-matches on both tasks, but found the emotion task harder than the non-emotion task. In Part 2, 17 boys with ADHD and 13 five-to six-year-old typically developing boys performed the same tasks, but with an ‘inhibitory scaffolding’ procedure to prevent impulsive responding. Boys with ADHD performed as well as the younger controls on the non-emotional task, but still showed impairments in the emotion task. Boys with ADHD may show poorer task performance because of general cognitive factors, but also showed selective problems in matching facial emotions to situations.


ADHDemotionsocial cognitionimpulsiveness

Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology/Centre for Cognitive ScienceUniversity of SussexBrightonUK