Emotional Control and Reaction Time in Children with Internalizing Disorders and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder




Turner, Melissa Dawn

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BACKGROUND: Prior literature indicates that children with slower reaction times on neurocognitive attention measures are more likely to respond more slowly to stop signals in real world situations. Taking longer to respond may also suggest a tendency to take longer to process emotional cues in real time, thus possibly resulting in vulnerability towards emotional dyscontrol. The present study examined differences between reaction time and the parental ratings of emotional control and internalizing symptomatology in three distinct pediatric populations: those with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), those with internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression, and those with comorbid ADHD and internalizing disorders. SUBJECTS: A sample of 64 children and adolescents who were patients at the Neuropsychology Service at Children's Medical Center Dallas Texas from November 2011 through July 2014 was derived. All patients received neuropsychological evaluations and were assessed for attentional and emotional disorders. METHOD: Approval for the study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Data was obtained via examination of medical records. Reaction time was measured via the Conners' Continuous Performance Test II (CPT II) Overall Hit Reaction Time (RT) variable. Parent rating forms from the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) Emotional Control subscale (EC) and the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2) Internalizing Problems Composite score (IP) were used as a measure of participants' emotional control capacity. A multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was employed to assess for significant differences between all three groups for CPT II RT, BRIEF EC, and BASC-2 IP, controlling for age, education, sex, and race. RESULTS: The MANCOVA yielded a significant overall model for group [F (6, 26) = 6.89, p < .01], controlling for age (p = .08), education (p < .01), sex (p = .13), and race (p = .02). There was a significant main effect for CPT II RT [F (2) = 8.31, p < .01] and BASC-2 IP [F (2) = 3.96, p < .04], with respectable effect sizes (η2 = .56 and .35, respectively). There was a moderately significant main effect for BRIEF EC [F (2) = 3.65, p = .051] with a moderate effect size (η2 = .33). Post hoc analyses revealed significant differences between the internalizing disorder and comorbid groups (p = .048) for CPT II RT, with slower reaction times in the internalizing disorders than comorbid groups. Significant differences were also observed between the ADHD and internalizing disorders groups (p < .01) as well as between the ADHD and comorbid groups (p = .03) for BASC-2 IP, with greatest elevation in the internalizing disorders, followed by the comorbid and ADHD groups. There were significant differences between the ADHD and the internalizing disorder groups (p = .04) as well as between the ADHD and comorbid groups (p = .01) for BRIEF EC. Of note, mean CPT II RT performance was in the normal range across the groups. All other pairwise comparisons were nonsignificant. DISCUSSION: In this study we explored associations between cognitive inefficiency and emotional dysregulation in order to further our understanding of the ways in which emotional and executive functions are related. We focused on differences between groups of three specific populations (i.e., ADHD, internalizing disorders and comorbid ADHD and internalizing disorders). The co-occurrence of ADHD and internalizing disorders may have important implications for assessment and treatment. Results such as these could be useful in determining whether treating one type of internalizing symptomatology may improve the other, and can allow providers to make more informed decisions about how to better assist children with comorbid conditions.

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