Brain Topography

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 135–151 | Cite as

Diagnostic Value of Resting Electroencephalogram in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Across the Lifespan

  • Martina D. Liechti
  • Lilian Valko
  • Ueli C. Müller
  • Mirko Döhnert
  • Renate Drechsler
  • Hans-Christoph Steinhausen
  • Daniel Brandeis
Original Paper


The resting electroencephalogram (EEG) reflects development and arousal, but whether it can support clinical diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains controversial. Here we examined whether theta power and theta/beta ratio are consistently elevated in ADHD and younger age as proposed. Topographic 48-channel EEG from 32 children (8–16 years) and 22 adults (32–55 years) with ADHD and matched healthy controls (n = 30 children/21 adults) was compared. Following advanced artefact correction, resting EEG was tested for increased theta and theta/beta activity due to ADHD and due to normal immaturity. Discriminant analyses tested classification performance by ADHD and age using these EEG markers as well as EEG artefacts and deviant attentional event-related potentials (ERPs). No consistent theta or theta/beta increases were found with ADHD. Even multivariate analyses indicated only marginal EEG power increases in children with ADHD. Instead, consistent developmental theta decreases were observed, indicating that maturational lags of fewer than 3 years would have been detected in children. Discriminant analysis based on proposed simple spectral resting EEG markers was successful for age but not for ADHD (81 vs. 53 % accuracy). Including ERP markers and EEG artefacts improved discrimination, although not to diagnostically useful levels. The lack of consistent spectral resting EEG abnormalities in ADHD despite consistent developmental effects casts doubt upon conventional neurometric approaches towards EEG-based ADHD diagnosis, but is consistent with evidence that ADHD is a heterogeneous disorder, where the resting state is not consistently characterised by maturational lag.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Electroencephalogram (EEG) Brain maturation Resting state Theta Beta 



Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder


Conduct disorder


Contingent negative variation


Discriminant analysis


Artefact-free segments


Continuous performance tests


Healthy control group










Event-related potential


Independent component analysis


Oppositional defiant disorder


Pearson correlation coefficient



This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) grant 32-109591 and by grants from Eli Lilly to H.-C. Steinhausen. Recruitment of ADHD sibling pairs was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01MH062873 to Steve Faraone (PI) and H.-C. Steinhausen (site PI). We thank the children and their families for participation, Antonia Bak, Gudrun Schneider, Guyslaine Thalmann, Lea Meier, Nadia Mock, and Yamilée Schwitter for help with testing and data processing, and Markus Mächler and Stefano Maurizio for their support with data analysis.

Supplementary material

10548_2012_258_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1424 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martina D. Liechti
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lilian Valko
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ueli C. Müller
    • 1
    • 4
  • Mirko Döhnert
    • 1
    • 5
  • Renate Drechsler
    • 1
  • Hans-Christoph Steinhausen
    • 1
    • 6
    • 7
  • Daniel Brandeis
    • 1
    • 2
    • 8
    • 9
  1. 1.Brain Mapping Research, Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Neuroscience Center ZürichUniversity of Zurich and ETH ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.University Children’s HospitalZürichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Hochschule für HeilpädagogikZürichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  6. 6.Aalborg Psychiatric HospitalAarhus University HospitalAalborgDenmark
  7. 7.Clinical Psychology and EpidemiologyInstitute of Psychology, University of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  8. 8.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and PsychotherapyCentral Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim/Heidelberg UniversityMannheimGermany
  9. 9.Center for Integrative Human PhysiologyUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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