Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 36, Issue 6, pp 903–913 | Cite as

The Effects of Incentives on Visual–Spatial Working Memory in Children with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Keri Shiels
  • Larry W. Hawk Jr.
  • Cynthia L. Lysczek
  • Rosemary Tannock
  • William E. Pelham Jr.
  • Sarah V. Spencer
  • Brian P. Gangloff
  • Daniel A. Waschbusch


Working memory is one of several putative core neurocognitive processes in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The present work seeks to determine whether visual–spatial working memory is sensitive to motivational incentives, a laboratory analogue of behavioral treatment. Participants were 21 children (ages 7–10) with a diagnosis of ADHD-combined type. Participants completed a computerized spatial span task designed to assess storage of visual–spatial information (forward span) and manipulation of the stored information (backward span). The spatial span task was completed twice on the same day, once with a performance-based incentive (trial-wise feedback and points redeemable for prizes) and once without incentives. Participants performed significantly better on the backward span when rewarded for correct responses, compared to the no incentive condition. However, incentives had no effect on performance during the forward span. These findings may suggest the use of motivational incentives improved manipulation, but not storage, of visual–spatial information among children with ADHD. Possible explanations for the differential incentive effects are discussed, including the possibility that incentives prevented a vigilance decrement as task difficulty and time on task increased.


ADHD Working memory Incentives Motivation Cognition Executive function 



We thank Mark Kutgowski for programming the task and Rebecca Ashare for providing feedback on drafts of the manuscript. This research was supported by grant MH069434 from the National Institute of Mental Health.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keri Shiels
    • 1
  • Larry W. Hawk Jr.
    • 1
  • Cynthia L. Lysczek
    • 1
  • Rosemary Tannock
    • 2
    • 3
  • William E. Pelham Jr.
    • 1
    • 4
  • Sarah V. Spencer
    • 1
  • Brian P. Gangloff
    • 1
  • Daniel A. Waschbusch
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity at Buffalo, SUNYBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Medical ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Brain and Behavior Research Program, Research InstituteThe Hospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsUniversity at Buffalo, SUNYBuffaloUSA

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