The neural correlates of deficient error awareness in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Redmond G. O'Connell, Mark A. Bellgrove, Paul M. Dockree, Adam Lau, Robert Hester, Hugh Garavan, Michael Fitzgerald, John J. Foxe, Ian H. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The ability to detect and correct errors is critical to adaptive control of behaviour and represents a discrete neuropsychological function. A number of studies have highlighted that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with abnormalities in behavioural and neural responsiveness to performance errors. One limitation of previous work has been a failure to determine the extent to which these differences are attributable to failures of conscious error awareness, a process that is dependent on the integrity of the frontal lobes. Recent advances in electrophysiological research make it possible to distinguish unconscious and conscious aspects of error processing. This study constitutes an extensive electrophysiological investigation of error awareness and error processing in ADHD. A Go/No-Go response inhibition task specifically designed to assess error awareness was administered to a group of adults diagnosed with ADHD and a group of matched control participants. The ADHD group made significantly more errors than the control group but was less likely to consciously detect these errors. An analysis of event-related potentials elicited by errors indicated that an early performance monitoring component (early positivity) was significantly attenuated in the ADHD group as was a later component that specifically reflects conscious error processing (Pe). Dipole source modelling suggested that abnormal Pe amplitudes were attributable to decreased activation of the anterior cingulate cortex. Decreased electrodermal activity in the ADHD group also suggested a motivational insensitivity to performance errors. Our data provide evidence that neuropsychological deficits associated with ADHD can be exacerbated by error processing abnormalities. Error awareness may represent an important cognitive and physiological phenotype for ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1149-1159
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • ERP
  • Error awareness
  • Source analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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