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Research Findings

Here is a summary of some of the recent (and exciting!) results to come out of the Arnett Lab studies.

Reduced Cognitive Control Explains the Association Between Atypical Brain Activation and Neurodevelopmental Disorder Symptoms

Children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), often have weaker cognitive control skills. Cognitive control describes the ability to regulate behaviors, such as planning, maintaining attention, and inhibiting impulses. Dr. Peisch and Dr. Arnett recently completed a study that examined the link between brain activity (measured with EEG), cognitive control, and neurodevelopmental symptoms.

They found that cognitive control fully mediated the association between brain activity and neurodevelopmental symptoms. These findings are shown in the figure below. Drs. Peisch and Arnett interpret these results to suggest that the EEG differences seen in children with ADHD may result from atypical development of brain networks that also support cognitive control, which in turn explains symptoms commonly observed in children with neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., difficulty shifting attention away from a preferred task). As cognitive control skills are malleable and may be strengthened through interventions, these findings are important for the clinical care of children with ADHD and other related neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neural Oscillatory Patterns Predict ADHD Diagnosis and Methylphenidate Response in Children

The aperiodic spectral slope is an EEG-acquired measure of background brain activity. In a poster presented at a conference for the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) in January 2022, Dr. Arnett and colleagues reported that children with ADHD show flatter aperiodic slopes in comparison to typically developing controls during a lights-off resting condition, but not in a lights-on condition. Overall, the brains of control children appeared to have adjusted their spectral slope across all conditions whereas the ADHD children’s brains did not. This paper will be available soon in the Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry.

Brain Signatures of Error Recognition

Next, we will write about what is happening in children’s brains when they make a mistake. Here is a sneak preview — the Error Related Negativity component (measured with EEG) is much more pronounced for non-ADHD compared to ADHD participants. Could that explain the lack of post-error slowing in ADHD?

Figure showing Error Related Negativity component (measured with EEG) is much more pronounced for non-ADHD compared to ADHD participants

EEG Can Be Used to Predict Stimulant Response in Children with ADHD

Methylphenidate (e.g., Concerta, Ritalin) is commonly used to treat children with ADHD; however, individual responses to this medication vary considerably. Dr. Arnett and her colleagues at the University of Washington recently published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience demonstrating that electroencephalography (EEG) may be used to predict whether a child will show ADHD symptom improvement on methylphenidate. Specifically, this study found that the resting aperiodic slope (a measure of background neural oscillatory patterns) and the novelty P3 amplitude (a measure of neural firing) together achieve moderate to high accuracy in predicting parent-report of prior methylphenidate response. Children with reduced P3a amplitude may respond more positively to methylphenidate compared to children who have normal P3a amplitudes and flatter aperiodic slope.

A bar graph with black, yellow and red bars.Black, yellow and red bar stacked on top of each other.Line graph.