, Volume 183, Issue 1, pp 81–91 | Cite as

Methylphenidate effects in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: electrodermal and ERP measures during a continuous performance task

  • Carlie A. Lawrence
  • Robert J. BarryEmail author
  • Adam R. Clarke
  • Stuart J. Johnstone
  • Rory McCarthy
  • Mark Selikowitz
  • Samantha J. Broyd
Original Investigation



Previous research investigating the effects of stimulants, such as methylphenidate (MPH), on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) has rarely included autonomic measures of arousal.


Our aim was to clarify the effects of MPH on central and autonomic measures in AD/HD children during a continuous performance task (CPT) using a naturalistic open-label study.


Thirty-six boys (18 AD/HD and 18 control) participated in a CPT over two trial periods, allowing a more valid estimate of the effects of medication, rather than assuming that retesting per se has no substantial impact. MPH was administered to the AD/HD group 1 h prior to the second trial. Errors and reaction time (RT) were recorded as measures of performance, electrodermal activity as an autonomic nervous system measure and event-related potentials (ERPs) as an index of central nervous system activity.


AD/HD children made more errors than controls in the first session, but no group differences were found after medication. No significant differences were observed for RT. Skin conductance level was found to be lower in AD/HD children than controls, but this difference was also ameliorated after medication. Conversely, mean skin conductance response to target stimuli was found not to differ between groups during the initial test phase but became significantly different in phase 2. ERP data showed topographic differences between groups in N1, P2, N2 and P3 at the initial test phase, which were reduced at the second test.


Stimulant medication ameliorated some of the dysfunctions in AD/HD children, which are reflected in behavioural and ERP measures. These results, in combination with general differences in electrodermal activity, support a hypoarousal model of AD/HD, which can explain the action of MPH in these children.


AD/HD Stimulants Event-related potentials Skin conductance CPT Boys Children Hypoarousal 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlie A. Lawrence
    • 1
  • Robert J. Barry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adam R. Clarke
    • 1
  • Stuart J. Johnstone
    • 1
  • Rory McCarthy
    • 2
  • Mark Selikowitz
    • 2
  • Samantha J. Broyd
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Brain & Behaviour Research InstituteUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Developmental ClinicSydneyAustralia

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