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Response perseveration and sensitivity to reward and punishment in boys with oppositional defiant disorder


Response perseveration is the tendency to continue a response set for reward despite punishment. In the present study, response perseveration and sensitivity to reward and punishment were assessed in boys with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The study also examined the relation between punishment sensitivity and autonomic arousal. Nineteen ODD boys (mean age 9.8 years) and 20 normal control boys (NC) (mean age 9.7 years) were administered the door-opening task. In this task, the subject chooses either to open the next door or to stop playing; the opening of doors is initially rewarded and then increasingly punished. ODD boys opened more doors than NC boys. Following punishment, ODD boys took less time than NC boys before opening the next door, but did not differ from NC boys in time after reward. Mean skin conductance level was lower in ODD boys than in NC boys. The correlation coefficient between time after punishment and skin conductance level was moderately positive in the total sample. These results suggest that response perseveration in ODD boys is related to low punishment sensitivity and that skin conductance level is a marker of punishment sensitivity.

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Correspondence to Walter Matthys.

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Matthys, W., van Goozen, S.H.M., Snoek, H. et al. Response perseveration and sensitivity to reward and punishment in boys with oppositional defiant disorder. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 13, 362–364 (2004).

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Key words

  • oppositional defiant disorder
  • conduct disorder
  • autonomic arousal
  • inhibition
  • punishment