Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 901–917 | Cite as

What Part of Working Memory is not Working in ADHD? Short-Term Memory, the Central Executive and Effects of Reinforcement

  • Sebastiaan Dovis
  • Saskia Van der Oord
  • Reinout W. Wiers
  • Pier J. M. Prins


Deficits in Working Memory (WM) are related to symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In children with ADHD visuospatial WM is most impaired. WM is composed of Short-Term Memory (STM) and a Central Executive (CE). Therefore, deficits in either or both STM and the CE may account for WM impairments in children with ADHD. WM-component studies investigating this find deficits in both STM and the CE. However, recent studies show that not only cognitive deficits, but also motivational deficits give rise to the aberrant WM performance of children with ADHD. To date, the influence of these motivational deficits on the components of WM has not been investigated. This study examined the effects of a standard (feedback-only) and a high level of reinforcement (feedback + 10 euros) on the visuospatial WM-, visuospatial STM-, and the CE performance of 86 children with ADHD and 62 typically-developing controls. With standard reinforcement the STM, CE, and WM performance of children with ADHD was worse than that of controls. High reinforcement improved STM and WM performance more in children with ADHD than in controls, but was unable to normalize their performance. High reinforcement did not appear to improve the CE-related performance of children with ADHD and controls. Motivational deficits have a detrimental effect on both the visuospatial WM performance and the STM performance of children with ADHD. Aside from motivational deficits, both the visuospatial STM and the CE of children with ADHD are impaired, and give rise to their deficits in visuospatial WM.


ADHD Working-memory Motivation Short-term-memory Central-executive Reinforcement 



We are grateful to Jeugdriagg Noord Holland Zuid, GGz Noord Holland Noord (Centrum voor Kinder- en Jeugdpsychiatrie), Regionaal Centrum voor Kinder en Jeugdpsychiatrie Gooi en Vechtstreek (RCKJP), Bosman GGz, Stichting De Praktijk, Stichting Kram, PuntP, Academisch Behandelcentrum UvA Minds, Kinderpraktijk VIS and the participating schools (OBS De Weidevogel, Amsterdam; OBS De Witte Olifant, Amsterdam; De Dr. E. Boekmanschool, Amsterdam; OBS Jules Verne, Alkmaar; PCBS Van der Brugghenschool, Huizen; Montessorischool De Boog, Nieuw-Vennep; and De Willemsparkschool, Amsterdam), to Thomas Gladwin for his comments and statistical advice, to Jasper Wijnen for programming the task, to Tim van den Broek, Josje de Bont, Annette Brouwer, Tycho Dekkers, Lucie van den Eertwegh, Roza van der Heide, Lisanne Klink, Astrid Nauta, Inge Meulenberg, Muriël Musa, Pascale Riaskoff, Elise Tilma, Marije Voermans, Ida de Vries, and Pamina Warmbrunn for their help with data collection, and to all participating children and families.


SvdO has been a paid consultant for Janssen pharmaceuticals in the development and evaluation of a serious game “Heelseeker” aimed at training cognitive functions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastiaan Dovis
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Saskia Van der Oord
    • 4
    • 1
    • 3
  • Reinout W. Wiers
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pier J. M. Prins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Developmental PsychologyUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Addiction, Development, and Psychopathology (Adapt Lab), Department of PsychologyUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Cognitive Science Center AmsterdamUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Clinical PsychologyLeuven UniversityLeuvenBelgium

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