European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 645–653 | Cite as

Deficits in auditory sensory discrimination among children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

  • Yi-Min Tien
  • Vincent Chin-Hung Chen
  • Tun-Shin Lo
  • Chia-Fen Hsu
  • Michael Gossop
  • Kuo-You HuangEmail author
Original Contribution


Research into children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has focused on complex cognitive dysfunction, but less attention has been paid to sensory perception processes underlying the symptoms of ADHD. Based on signal detection theory, the present study compared the sensory discrimination ability and decision bias of children with and without ADHD. It also investigated the differences between ADHD with predominantly inattentive (ADHDi) and combined presentations (ADHDc). The sample of 75 children and adolescents with ADHD (24 ADHDi, 51 ADHDc) (16 females and 59 males) and 22 typical developing controls (TD) (8 females and 14 males) completed an auditory signal detection task. Participants were asked to detect signals against levels of transient background noise (35, 45, 55, and 65 dB). The results showed that with the increase of noise levels, both the ADHD and TD groups demonstrated decreased sensory discrimination. Although both groups successfully detected signal against noise levels from 35 to 55 dB, the ADHD group showed lower discrimination ability than that of the TD group. For decision bias, no group difference was found. Further comparisons regarding the predominant symptom presentation of ADHD sub-groups showed no differences. Current research has suggested that the deficit in ADHD people’s signal detection performance can be attributed to sensory discrimination rather than decision bias. We suggest that background noise should be taken into account when using auditory stimuli to investigate cognitive functions in people with ADHD.


ADHD Signal detection theory Auditory sensory discrimination Decision bias 



The authors would like to thank Health Information and Epidemiology Laboratory (CLRPG6G0041) for the comments and assistance in data analysis.

Author contributions

Y-MT contributed to the study design and statistical analysis and drafted the initial manuscript; VC-HC carried out the participants interview and diagnosis, interpreted the data, revised the manuscript, and contributed equally to Y-MT; T-SL contributed to the task design and reviewed the manuscript; C-FH and MG critically reviewed the manuscript; and K-YH conceptualized the study, finalized the manuscript, and took responsibility for the integrity of the data. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript as submitted.


The present study is supported in part by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (NSC 102-2314-B-040-004-MY3, MOST 105-2314-B-182-028). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors have no financial relationships relevant to this article and conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyChung Shan Medical UniversityTaichungTaiwan
  2. 2.Room of Clinical PsychologyChung Shan Medical University HospitalTaichungTaiwan
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryChang Gung Memorial Hospital and UniversityChiayiTaiwan
  4. 4.Graduate Institute of Clinical Medical SciencesChang Gung UniversityTaoyüanTaiwan
  5. 5.Department of Speech Language Pathology and AudiologyChung Shan Medical UniversityTaichungTaiwan
  6. 6.Speech and Language Therapy RoomChung Shan Medical University HospitalTaichungTaiwan
  7. 7.National Addiction CentreKing’s CollegeLondonUK

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