Symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been associated with frontal lobe deficits. We used a novel brain electrical imaging method to investigate rapid and continuous changes in brain activity during the continuous performance task (CPT) in normal boys and in boys with ADHD. The amplitude and latency topography of the steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) were examined while subjects performed the “X” version of the CPT (CPT-X; the reference task) and the “A-X” version of the CPT (CPT-AX).
Seventeen boys meeting DSM-III-R criteria for ADHD and 17 age-matched controls participated in the study. Brain electrical activity was recorded from 64 scalp sites. During the reference task, subjects pressed a microswitch on the unpredictable appearance of the letter X. During the CPT-AX, subjects were required to press the microswitch on the appearance of the letter X only if an A had preceded it.
In the interval between the appearances of the A and the X of the correct trials of the CPT-AX, control boys showed transient reductions in SSVEP latency at right prefrontal sites. By contrast, boys with ADHD showed no change or an increase in prefrontal SSVEP latency at right prefrontal sites.
Our results suggest increased speed of prefrontal neural processing in children without ADHD following a priming stimulus, and a deficit in such processes in children with ADHD.