Identifying a distinctive familial frequency band in reaction time fluctuations in ADHD

Suzannah K. Helps, Samantha J. Broyd, Paraskevi Bitsakou, Edmund J. S. Sonuga-Barke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Patients with ADHD are typically more variable in their reaction times (RT) than control children. Signal processing analyses have shown that time series RT data of children with ADHD have a distinctive low frequency periodic structure suggestive of a pattern of occasional spontaneous performance lapses. Here we use a fine-grained analysis of spectral power across a broader frequency range to differentiate the periodic qualities of ADHD time series RT data from (a) 1/frequency noise, and (b) control performance. We also assess the familiality of these frequencies by using a proband-sibling design. Method: Seventy-one children with ADHD, one of their siblings, and 50 control participants completed a simple RT task. Power across the RT frequency spectrum was calculated. The frequencies significantly differentiating the two groups were identified. Familiality was assessed in two ways: first, by comparing probands with their unaffected siblings and controls, and, second, by investigating the siblings of neuropsychologically impaired and unimpaired children with ADHD. Results: Analyses converged to highlight the potential importance of the .20-.26 Hz band in differentiating the periodic structure of ADHD RT time series data from both 1/frequency noise and control performance. This frequency band also showed the strongest evidence of familiality. Conclusions: RT performance of children with ADHD had a distinctive periodic structure. The band identified as most differentiating and familial was at a higher frequency than in most previous reports. This highlights the importance of employing tasks with faster interstimulus intervals that will allow a larger portion of the frequency spectrum to be examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-719
Number of pages9
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Attentional lapses
  • Endophenotype
  • Low frequency
  • Reaction time variability


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