Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

What would Karl Popper say? Are current psychological theories of ADHD falsifiable?

By Katherine A Johnson, Jan R Wiersema and Jonna Kuntsi


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common and highly heritable neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorder. Here, we critically review four major psychological theories of ADHD – the Executive Dysfunction, the State Regulation, the Delay Aversion and the Dynamic Developmental – on their abilities to explain all the symptoms of ADHD, their testability and their openness to falsification. We conclude that theoreticians should focus, to a greater extent than currently practiced, on developing refutable theories of ADHD

Topics: Review
Publisher: BioMed Central
OAI identifier:
Provided by: PubMed Central

Suggested articles


  1. (1992). A motor presetting experiment in hyperactive, learning disabled and control children.
  2. (2003). A: Association of ADHD and conduct disorder – brain electrical evidence for the existence of a distinct subtype. J Child Psychol Psychiatry
  3. (2008). A: Pre- and peri-natal environmental risks for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): the potential role of epigenetic processes in mediating susceptibility.
  4. (1992). A: Psychophysiological correlates of orienting, anticipation, and contingency changes in children with psychiatric disorders. Psychophysiology
  5. (1998). Altered reinforcement mechanisms in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Behav Brain Res
  6. (2003). AR: A review of electrophysiology in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: II. Event-related potentials. Clin Neurophysiol
  7. (1975). Arousal, activation and effort in the control of attention. Psychol Rev
  8. (2006). Asherson P: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuromolecular Med
  9. (2007). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and behavioral inhibition: a meta-analytic review of the stop-signal paradigm.
  10. (1997). Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: constructing a unifying theory of ADHD. Psychol Bull
  11. (2008). Bellgrove MA: Impaired conflict resolution and alerting in children with ADHD: evidence from the Attention Network Task (ANT). J Child Psychol Psychiatry
  12. (2005). BF: Validity of the executive function theory of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A meta-analytic review. Biol Psychiatry
  13. (2003). BJ: Differential patterns of striatal activation in young children with and without ADHD. Biol Psychiatry
  14. (1999). Bogte H: Heart rate variability and sustained attention in ADHD children.
  15. (2001). Castellanos FX: Brain imaging of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
  16. (2006). Castellanos FX: Temporal and probabilistic discounting of rewards in children and adolescents: Effects of age and ADHD symptoms. Neuropsychologia
  17. (2005). Causal models of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: from common simple deficits to multiple developmental pathways. Biol Psychiatry
  18. (1976). Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge Fourth edition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited;
  19. (2000). de Cock P: Motor inhibition in very low birth weight children associated with ADHD. Dev Med Child Neurol
  20. Delay and reward choice in ADHD: An experimental test of the role of delay aversion.
  21. (2005). Delay of reinforcement gradients and attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): The challenges of moving from causal theories to causal models. Behav Brain Sci
  22. (2000). der: 0.10 Hz heart rate variability component and sustained attention. Psychophysiology
  23. (2000). der: Motor control and state regulation in children with ADHD: a cardiac response study. Biol Psychol
  24. (2004). der: Response inhibition in children with conduct disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. Clin Neuropsychol
  25. der: The role of attention. In Monographs on child and adolescent psychiatry Second edition. Edited by: Sandberg S. Cambridge:
  26. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 4th edition.
  27. (2000). DM: The neurodevelopmental frontostriatal disorders: Evolutionary adaptiveness and anomalous lateralization. Brain and Language
  28. (2003). Do executive deficits and delay aversion make independent contributions to preschool attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms? J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry
  29. (1983). Donchin E: Performance of concurrent tasks. A psychophysiological analysis of the reciprocity of information-processing resources. Science
  30. (2006). Dysfunctional attentional networks in children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from an eventrelated functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Biol Psychiatry
  31. (1988). E: Low doses of methylphenidate (Ritalin) may alter the delay-of-reinforcement gradient. Psychopharmacology
  32. (2001). E: The Ecological Validity of Delay Aversion and Response Inhibition as Measures of Impulsivity in AD/HD: A Supplement to the NIMH Multimodal Treatment Study of AD/HD.
  33. (1999). Effects of stimulant medication on the lateralisation of line bisection judgements of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  34. (2008). EG: Executive dysfunction and delay aversion in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: nosologic and diagnostic implications. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am
  35. (2006). Emory E: Executive function and the frontal lobes: a meta-analytic review. Neuropsychol Rev
  36. (2006). Event rate and event-related potentials in ADHD.
  37. (2004). Event-rate manipulation and its effect on arousal modulation and response inhibition in adults with high functioning autism. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol
  38. (2002). Evidence for a pure time perception deficit in children with ADHD.
  39. Fractionation of the supervisory system.
  40. (2006). From behaviour to cognition to the brain and back: what have we learned from functional imaging studies of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? Am J Psychiatry
  41. (1995). Gunning B: Effects of presentation rate of stimuli on response inhibition in ADHD children with and without tics. Percept Mot Skills
  42. (1992). Hyperactivity and delay aversion I. The effect of delay on choice.
  43. (2005). IH: Association between dopamine transporter (DAT1) genotype, left-sided inattention, and an enhanced response to methylphenidate in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Neuropsychopharmacology
  44. (2007). IH: Response variability in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence for neuropsychological heterogeneity. Neuropsychologia
  45. (2004). Inhibitory deficits, delay aversion and preschool AD/HD: implications for the dual pathway model. Neural Plast
  46. (2002). Interval length and time-use by children with AD/HD: A comparison of four models.
  47. (1989). JB: Striatal dysfunction in attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorder. Arch Neurol
  48. (2005). Kenemans JL: Disentangling deficits in adults with AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry
  49. (2005). Kvande G: Effects of delayed reinforcers on the behavior of an animal model of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Behav Brain Res
  50. (2000). Lack of inhibition: a motivational deficit in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and children with traumatic brain injury. Child Neuropsychol
  51. (1998). LL: Stimulus control of visual fixation duration in a single saccade paradigm. Acta Psychologica
  52. (2005). Marrocco RT: Normal attention orienting but abnormal stimulus alerting and conflict effect in combined subtype of ADHD. Behav Brain Res
  53. (2002). MD: Neuropsychological executive functions and DSM-IV ADHD subtypes.
  54. (2005). Mesulam MM: Larger deficits in brain networks for response inhibition than for visual selective attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). J Child Psychol Psychiatry
  55. (2005). Modeling attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a critical appraisal of the cognitive-energetic model. Biol Psychiatry
  56. (2005). Molecular genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Biol Psychiatry
  57. (1994). On dysfunction and function in psychological accounts of childhood disorder.
  58. (2001). On the utility of P3 amplitude as a measure of processing capacity. Psychophysiology
  59. (2005). Poldrack RA: The cognitive neuroscience of response inhibition: relevance for genetic research in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Biol Psychiatry
  60. Pribram K: The neuropsychology of attention: Emotional and motivational controls.
  61. (2002). Psychological heterogeneity in AD/HD – a dual pathway model of behaviour and cognition. Behav Brain Res
  62. (1996). RD: The contribution of alpha 2-noradrenergic mechanisms of prefrontal cortical cognitive function. Potential significance for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry
  63. (2007). Reaction time performance in ADHD: improvement under fast-incentive condition and familial effects. Psychol Med
  64. (2001). Response execution and inhibition in children with AD/HD and other disruptive disorders: the role of behavioural activation.
  65. (2000). Responsiveness of children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder to reward and response cost: differential impact on performance and motivation.
  66. (1989). Results from a comparative neuropsychological research program indicate altered reinforcement mechanisms in children with ADD.
  67. (2007). RJ: Gene-environment interactions in the development of combined type ADHD: evidence for a synapse-based model.
  68. (2006). Roeyers H: State regulation in adult ADHD: An event-related potential study.
  69. (2007). Sagvolden T: Behavioral variability, elimination of responses, and delay-of-reinforcement gradients in SHR and WKY rats. Behav Brain Funct
  70. (2006). Sagvolden T: Moment-to-moment dynamics of ADHD behaviour in South African children. Behav Brain Funct
  71. (2005). Sagvolden T: Moment-to-moment dynamics of ADHD behaviour. Behav Brain Functions
  72. (2009). Sagvolden T: Origins of altered reinforcement effects in ADHD. Behav Brain Functions
  73. (1990). Science and its fabrication First edition.
  74. (2005). Sonuga-Barke EJ: Causal heterogeneity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: do we need neuropsychologically impaired subgroups? Biol Psychiatry
  75. State regulation and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: from Genes to Patients Edited by: Gozal D, Molfese DL.
  76. (2005). State regulation and response inhibition in children with ADHD and children with early- and continuously treated Phenylketonuria: An eventrelated potential comparison. J Inherit Metab Dis
  77. (2002). Strick PL: Basal-ganglia 'projections' to the prefrontal cortex of the primate. Cereb Cortex
  78. (2005). Structural brain imaging of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry
  79. (2005). Sustained attention and response inhibition in young children at risk for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Child Psychol Psychiatry
  80. (2006). Tannock R: Characterizing cognition in ADHD: beyond executive dysfunction. Trends Cogn Sci
  81. (2009). Tannock R: Executive functions: performance-based measures and the behavior rating inventory of executive function (BRIEF) in adolescents with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Child Neuropsychol
  82. (2002). Tannock R: Neuroscience of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder: the search for endophenotypes. Nat Rev Neurosci
  83. (2003). Tannock R: Time perception deficits in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and comorbid reading difficulties in child and adolescent samples.
  84. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annu Rev Neurosci
  85. (1998). The continuous performance test revisited with neuroelectric mapping: impaired orienting in children with attention deficits. Behav Brain Res
  86. (1969). The discovery of processing stages: Extensions of Donders' methods. Acta Psychologica
  87. (2003). The dual pathway model of AD/HD: an elaboration of neuro-developmental characteristics. Neurosci Biobehav Rev
  88. The human frontal lobes: transcending the default mode through contingent encoding.
  89. (2006). The IMAGE project: methodological issues for the molecular genetic analysis of ADHD. Behav Brain Funct
  90. (2005). The impact of reinforcement contingencies on AD/HD: a review and theoretical appraisal. Clin Psychol Rev
  91. The logic of scientific discovery London:
  92. (1978). The methodology of scientific research programmes First edition. London:
  93. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions Third edition.
  94. (2003). The top and bottom of ADHD: A neuropsychological perspective. Neurosci Biobehav Rev
  95. (1997). Toward a pathophysiology of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. Clin Pediatr (Phila)
  96. (1983). Towards a model of stress and performance. Acta Psychologica
  97. (2009). VA: A dynamic developmental theory of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorderBehavioral and Brain Functions
  98. (1995). Verkerk PH: Information processing in patients with early and continuously treated phenylketonuria.
  99. (2008). Waschbusch DA: The effects of incentives on visualspatial working memory in children with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. J Abnorm Child Psychol

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.