Neuropsychology Review

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 103-120

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Executive Function in Pediatric Bipolar Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: In Search of Distinct Phenotypic Profiles

  • Patricia D. WalshawAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science, University of California Los Angeles Email author 
  • , Lauren B. AlloyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Temple University
  • , Fred W. SabbAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science, University of California Los Angeles


Often, there is diagnostic confusion between bipolar disorder (BD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in youth due to similar behavioral presentations. Both disorders have been implicated as having abnormal functioning in the prefrontal cortex; however, there may be subtle differences in the manner in which the prefrontal cortex functions in each disorder that could assist in their differentiation. Executive function is a construct thought to be a behavioral analogy to prefrontal cortex functioning. We provide a qualitative review of the literature on performance on executive function tasks for BD and ADHD in order to determine differences in task performance and neurocognitive profile. Our review found primary differences in executive function in the areas of interference control, working memory, planning, cognitive flexibility, and fluency. These differences may begin to establish a pediatric BD profile that provides a more objective means of differential diagnosis between BD and ADHD when they are not reliably distinguished by clinical diagnostic methods.


Bipolar disorder Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder Executive function Prefrontal cortex Neurocognitive