The dominance of behavioural activation over behavioural inhibition in conduct disordered boys with or without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Walter Matthys, Stephanie H.M. Van Goozen, Han De Vries, Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, Herman Van Engeland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


On the basis of Gray's theory, Quay suggested that conduct disorder (CD) is associated with a Behavioural Activation System (BAS) that dominates over the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), whereas attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterised by an underactive BIS. Two studies were conducted to test the hypothesis that the dominance of the BAS over the BIS is more pronounced in CD comorbid with ADHD (CD/ADHD) than in CD alone. First of all, a response perseveration task was used, i.e. the door-opening task. In this game, the subject chooses either to open the next door or to stop playing; there is a steadily increasing ratio of punished responses to rewarded responses and a large number of doors opened is indicative of response perseveration. As expected, a steady increase in the number of doors opened was found across normal control (NC) boys, CD boys, and CD/ADHD boys (NC<CD<CD/ADHD). Second, the dominance of the BAS over the BIS was examined by observing the social behaviour of the child in interaction with a research assistant who alternately activated the BAS and the BIS while a game was played. The behaviour of the children was analysed according to ethological methods. Group differences in the frequencies of three out of five behavioural categories were in line with the results of the door-opening task (NC<CD<CD/ADHD).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-651
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 1998


  • Aggression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Ethology
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Social behaviour

Cite this