Time-on-task effects in children with and without ADHD: Depletion of executive resources or depletion of motivation?

T.J. Dekkers, J.A. Agelink van Rentergem, A. Koole, W.P.M. van den Wildenberg, A. Popma, A. Bexkens, R. Stoffelsen, A. Diekmann, H.M. Huizenga

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Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are characterized by deficits in their executive functioning and motivation. In addition, these children are characterized by a decline in performance as time-on-task increases (i.e., time-on-task effects). However, it is unknown whether these time-on-task effects should be attributed to deficits in executive functioning or to deficits in motivation. Some studies in typically developing (TD) adults indicated that time-on-task effects should be interpreted as depletion of executive resources, but other studies suggested that they represent depletion of motivation. We, therefore, investigated, in children with and without ADHD, whether there were time-on-task effects on executive functions, such as inhibition and (in)attention, and whether these were best explained by depletion of executive resources or depletion of motivation. The stop-signal task (SST), which generates both indices of inhibition (stop-signal reaction time) and attention (reaction time variability and errors), was administered in 96 children (42 ADHD, 54 TD controls; aged 9–13). To differentiate between depletion of resources and depletion of motivation, the SST was administered twice. Half of the participants was reinforced during second task performance, potentially counteracting depletion of motivation. Multilevel analyses indicated that children with ADHD were more affected by time-on-task than controls on two measures of inattention, but not on inhibition. In the ADHD group, reinforcement only improved performance on one index of attention (i.e., reaction time variability). The current findings suggest that time-on-task effects in children with ADHD occur specifically in the attentional domain, and seem to originate in both depletion of executive resources and depletion of motivation. Clinical implications for diagnostics, psycho-education, and intervention are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1471-1481
JournalEuropean child & adolescent psychiatry
Issue number12
Early online date23 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • ADHD
  • Depletion
  • Executive functioning
  • Inhibition
  • Reinforcement
  • Time-on-task

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