AsianScientist (Aug. 7, 2017) – In an unusual move, scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have published their research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Frontiers for Young Minds, an electronic scientific journal whose primary audience comprises children from elementary and junior high schools. Their work revealed that activity in the striatum of children with ADHD is different from that in normal children during reward-based learning.
ADHD is a disorder of the brain causing affected individuals to be inattentive or to exhibit hyperactive and impulsive behavior that interferes with learning and development.
“Kids with ADHD are often misunderstood and thought of as ‘problem kids’ in school and by parents,” said Dr. Emi Furukawa of OIST. “They tend to have more difficulties in everyday activities, sometimes remaining through adulthood, and we want to find out why that might be.”
Even though pharmacological treatment is available for ADHD, its efficiency is limited due to a lack of understanding of the neurobiology of ADHD.
“We do have some behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions reducing the symptoms of ADHD, but we do not know exactly why they sometimes work and sometimes don’t. We also lack understanding of the potential side effects of such treatments,” added Furukawa. “So we want to know exactly what might be happening in the brains of children with ADHD to better refine the interventions for them.”
In this study, a group of college students with or without ADHD completed a simple task in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner that measured activity in the striatum when waiting for a reward and when the reward was delivered. Through the fMRI brain scans, the study revealed that the striatum of students without ADHD was much more active in anticipation of the reward, potentially helping them to focus onto the task at hand, knowing reward was likely to follow.
However, students with ADHD displayed the opposite pattern: receiving the reward triggered higher activity in the striatum compared to the anticipation the prize. This may negatively impact the ability of children with ADHD to stay focused if there is no instant gratification.
“As psychologists, we have known that children with ADHD need to be rewarded more frequently,” said Furukawa. “But parents and teachers have a hard time doing so because they wonder ‘why do I have to more often reward children who misbehave?’”
Thus, Furukawa thinks that providing neurobiological-based explanations about ADHD might make more sense to caregivers or parents and help encourage them to implement a behavior management strategy that benefits children with ADHD.
As interesting as these findings are, the way they were published also deserves special mention. In this case, peer-review of the research was performed by 12 to 15 year-old children from the ‘Champions of Science’ program at the Chabot Space and Science Center, California, USA.
Supported by trained scientists, the young teenagers checked the robustness of the science but also the quality and clarity of the language for everyone to understand the scientific article. The young reviewers then provided their feedback to the authors.
Furukawa acknowledged having children ‘peer-reviewing’ the research paper was very beneficial.
“They came up with questions that none of the scientific reviewers thought to ask, asking about another part of the brain that lit up in both the ADHD and control groups and wondering about its function. Children have a different way at looking at the world, which as a scientist sometimes makes you re-think the way you explain your research,” she concluded. “This system also facilitates fostering the next generation of scientists.”
The article can be found at: Furukawa et al. (2017) Focusing Is Hard! Brain Responses to Reward in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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