Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 447–462 | Cite as

ADHD Outside the Laboratory: Boys' Executive Function Performance on Tasks in Videogame Play and on a Visit to the Zoo

  • Vivienne Lawrence
  • Stephen HoughtonEmail author
  • Rosemary Tannock
  • Graham Douglas
  • Kevin Durkin
  • Ken Whiting


One current theory of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) proposes that a primary deficit in behavioral inhibition gives rise to secondary deficits in 4 executive functions and motor control. To date, empirical support for this model is based primarily on laboratory-based cognitive methods. This study assessed behavioral inhibition and executive functioning in children with ADHD in 2 real-life contexts: videogames (motor-skill target game, cognitively demanding adventure game) and an outing at the zoo (route tasks). Participants were a community sample of 57 boys diagnosed with ADHD (20 inattentive, 37 combined type) and 57 normally developing control boys, matched individually for age and nonverbal IQ. Operationally defined measures of behavioral inhibition and specific executive functions were derived from these activities and assessed under contrasting conditions of low or high working memory and distractor loads. There were no group differences in basic motor skills on the target game, nor in terms of the ability to inhibit a prepotent or ongoing response in the adventure videogame. However, boys with ADHD exhibited more self-talk, more effortful response preparation, and completed fewer challenges in the latter videogame. Also, they manifested inhibition deficits in terms of interference control during the route task at the zoo and took longer to complete the tasks. Typically, these differences were greatest under conditions of high working memory and distractor loads. Findings from this study suggest that cognitive difficulties in ADHD may be context dependent and that ADHD is associated with deficits in some but not all aspects of behavioral inhibition.

attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder executive functions behavioral inhibition working memory internalized speech motor control 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. London, UK: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barkley, R. A. (1997). ADHD and the nature of self-control. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barkley, R. A. (2001). Genetics of childhood disorders: XVII. Part I: The executive functions and ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 1064-1068.Google Scholar
  5. Benedetto-Nasho, E. (2000). Use of private speech during math computation in children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Methodological challenges, task performance and effects of stimulant medication. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  6. Berk, L. E., & Potts, M. K. (1991). Development and functional significance of private speech among Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disordered and Normal Boys. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 19, 357-377.Google Scholar
  7. Biederman, J., Faraone, S. V., Mick, E., Williamson, S., Wilens, T. E., Spencer, T. J., et al. (1999). Clinical correlates of ADHD in females: Findings from a large group of girls ascertained from pediatric and psychiatric referral sources. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 966-975.Google Scholar
  8. Bremner, J. G., & Andreasen, G. (1998). Young children's ability to use maps and models to find ways in novel spaces. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 16, 197-218.Google Scholar
  9. Carlson, C. L., & Tamm, L. (2000). Responsiveness of children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder to reward and response cost: Differential impact on performance and motivation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 73-83.Google Scholar
  10. Cary, D. (1997). Bart Star (D. Polcino, Director). In Mike Scully (Exec. Producer), The Simpsons. Century City: 20th Century Fox Corporation.Google Scholar
  11. Castellanos, F. X., Marvasti, F. F., Ducharme, J. L., Walter, J. M., Israel, M. E., Krain, A., et al. (2000). Executive function occulomotor tasks in girls with ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 644-650.Google Scholar
  12. Cepeda, N. J., Cepeda, M. L., & Kramer, A. F. (2000). Task switching and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 213-226.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Crash Bandicoot [Computer software]. (1996). California: Naughty Dog Software.Google Scholar
  15. Cupitt, M., & Stockbridge, S. (1996). Families and electronic entertainment. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Office of Film and Literature Classification.Google Scholar
  16. DeBonis, D. A., Ylvisaker, M., & Kundert, D. K. (2000). The relationship between ADHD theory and practice: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Attention Disorders, 4, 161-172.Google Scholar
  17. de Fockert, J. W., Rees, G., Frith, C. D., & Lavie, N. (2001). The role of working memory in visual sustained attention. Science, 291, 1803-1806.Google Scholar
  18. Dougherty, D. D., Bonab, A. A., Spencer T. J., Rauch, S. L., Madras, B. K., & Fischman, A. J. (1999). Dopamine transporter density is elevated in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Lancet, 354, 2132-2133.Google Scholar
  19. Durkin, K., & Aisbett, K. (1999). Computer games and Australians today. NSW, Australia: Office of Film and Literature Classification.Google Scholar
  20. DuPaul, G. J., Power, T. T., Anastopoulos, A. D., & Reid, R. (1998). ADHD rating scale IV: Checklist, norms & clinical interpretation. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  21. Emes, C. (1997). Is Mr. Pac Man eating our children? A review of the effect of videogames on children. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 42, 409-414.Google Scholar
  22. Fuster, J. M. (1989). The prefrontal cortex. New York: Raven Press.Google Scholar
  23. Greenfield, P. M. (1994). Videogames as cultural artifacts. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 3-12.Google Scholar
  24. Greenfield, P. M. (1999). The cultural evolution. In U. Neisser (Ed.), The rising curve (pp. 81-124). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  25. Greenfield, P. M., & Cocking, R. R. (1994). Effects of interactive entertainment technologies on development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 1-2.Google Scholar
  26. Greenfield, P. M., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (1996). Interacting with video. Advances in Applied Developmental Psychology (Vol. 11). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  27. Houghton, S., Douglas, G., West, J., Whiting, K., Wall, M., Langsford, S., et al. (1999). Differential patterns of executive function in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder according to gender and subtype. Journal of Child Neurology, 14, 801-805.Google Scholar
  28. Kirk, R. E. (1995). Experimental design procedures for the behavioral sciences (3rd Ed.). California: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  29. Koepp, M. J., Gunn, R. N., Lawrence, A. D., Cunningham, V.J., Dagher, A., Jones, T., et al. (1998). Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a videogame. Nature, 393, 266-268.Google Scholar
  30. Krause, K. H., Dresel, S. H., Krause, J., Kung, H. F., & Tatsch, K. (2000). Increased striatal dopamine transporter in adult patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Effects of methylphenidate as measured by single photon emission computed tomography. Neuroscience Letters, 285, 107-110.Google Scholar
  31. Kuntsi, J., Oosterlaan, J., & Stevenson, J. (2001). Psychological mechanisms in hyperactivity: I. Behavioral inhibition deficit, working memory impairment, delay aversion, or something else? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42(2), 199-210.Google Scholar
  32. Lezak, M. D. (1995). Neuropsychological assessment (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Li, K. Z. H., Lindenberger, U., Rünger, D., & Frensch, P. A. (2000). The role of inhibition in the regulation of sequential action. Psychological Science, 11, 343-347.Google Scholar
  34. Logie, R., Baddeley, A., Mané, A., Donchin, E., & Sheptak, R. (1989). Working memory in the acquisition of complex cognitive skills. Acta Psychologica, 71, 53-87.Google Scholar
  35. Mitchell, W. G., Chavez, J. M., Baker, S. A., Guzman, B. L., & Azen, S. P. (1990). Reaction time, impulsivity, and attention in hyperactive children and controls: A videogame technique. Journal of Child Neurology, 5, 195-204.Google Scholar
  36. Neale, M. D. (1989). Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (2nd Ed.). London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Nelson, C. A., Monk, C. S., Lin, J., Carver, L. J., Thomas, K. M., & Truwit, C. L. (2000). Functional neuroanatomy of spatial working memory in children. Developmental Psychology, 36, 109-116.Google Scholar
  38. Nigg, J. T. (1999). The ADHD response-inhibition deficit as measured by the stop task: Replication with DSM-IV combined type, extension, and qualification. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27, 393-402.Google Scholar
  39. Nigg, J. T., Blaskey, L. G., Huang-Pollock, C. L., & Rappley, M. D. (2002). Neuropsychological executive functions and DSM-IV ADHD subtypes. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 59-66.Google Scholar
  40. Oberauer, K., Süβ, H.-M., Schulze, R., Wilhelm, O., & Wittmann, W. W. (2000). Working memory capacity—Facets of a cognitive ability construct. Personality and Individual Differences, 29, 1017-1045.Google Scholar
  41. Pennington, B. F., & Ozonoff, S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 51-87.Google Scholar
  42. Point Blank [Computer software]. (1998). Japan: Namco.Google Scholar
  43. Quay, H. C. (1997). Inhibition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 25, 7-13.Google Scholar
  44. Rapport, M. D. (2001). Bridging theory and practice: Conceptual understanding of treatments for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), autism, and depression. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 30, 3-7.Google Scholar
  45. Rapport, M. D., Chung, K.-M., Shore, G., Denney, C. B., & Isaacs, P. (2000). Upgrading the science and technology of assessment and diagnosis: Laboratory and clinic-based assessment of children with ADHD. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 29, 555-568.Google Scholar
  46. Rubia, K., Overmeyer, S., Taylor, E., Brammer, M., Williams, S., Simmons, A., et al. (1998). Prefrontal involvement in “temporal bridging” and timing movement. Neuropsychologia, 36, 1283-1293.Google Scholar
  47. Rucklidge, J. J., & Tannock, R. (2001). Psychiatric, psychosocial, and cognitive functioning of female adolescents with ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 530-540.Google Scholar
  48. Schachar, R., Mota, V. L., Logan, G. D., Tannock, R., & Klim, P. (2000). Confirmation of an inhibitory control deficit in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 227-235.Google Scholar
  49. Schachar, R., Tannock, R., Marriott, M., & Logan, G. (1995). Deficient inhibitory control in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 23, 411-437.Google Scholar
  50. Schaffer, R. J., Jacokes, L. E., Cassily, J. F., Greenspan, S. I., Tuchman, R. F., & Stemmer, P. J., Jr. (2001). Effect of interactive metronome training on children with ADHD. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 155-162.Google Scholar
  51. Scheres, A., Oosterlaan, J., & Sergeant, J. A. (2001). Response execution and inhibition in children with AD/HD and other disruptive disorders: The role of behavioural activation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 347-357.Google Scholar
  52. Slusarek, M., Velling, S., Bunk, D., & Eggers, C. (2001). Motivational effects on inhibitory control in children with ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 355-363.Google Scholar
  53. Tannock, R. (1997). Television, videogames, and ADHD: Challenging a popular belief. The ADHD Report, 5, 3-7.Google Scholar
  54. Tannock, R. (1998). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Advances in cognitive, neurobiological, and genetic research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39, 65-99.Google Scholar
  55. Warner-Rogers, J., Taylor, A., Taylor, E., & Sandberg, S. (2000). Inattentive behavior in childhood: Epidemiology and implications for development. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 520-536.Google Scholar
  56. Wechsler, D. (1991). Wechsler intelligence scale for children (Rev. 3rd ed.). New York: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  57. Winsler, A. (1998). Parent-child interaction and private speech in boys with ADHD. Applied Developmental Science, 2, 17-39.Google Scholar
  58. Zentall, S. S. (1993). Research on the educational implications of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Exceptional Children, 60, 143-153.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vivienne Lawrence
    • 1
  • Stephen Houghton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rosemary Tannock
    • 2
  • Graham Douglas
    • 1
  • Kevin Durkin
    • 3
  • Ken Whiting
    • 4
  1. 1.The Graduate School of EducationThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Brain & Behavior Research ProgramThe Hospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe University of Western Australia, PerthWestern AustraliaAustralia
  4. 4.Community Consultant PediatricianPerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations