Emotion regulation in adolescent males with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: Testing the effects of comorbid conduct disorder.


Although attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been linked to emotion dysregulation, few studies have experimentally investigated this whilst controlling for the effects of comorbid conduct disorder (CD). Economic decision-making games that assess how individuals respond to offers varying in fairness have been used to study emotion regulation. The present study compared adolescent boys with ADHD (n = 90), ADHD + CD (n = 94) and typical controls (n = 47) on the Ultimatum Game and examined the contribution of ADHD and CD symptom scores and callous and unemotional traits to acceptance levels of unfair offers. There were no significant differences in acceptance rates of fair and highly unfair offers between groups, and only boys with ADHD did not significantly differ from the controls. However, the subgroup of boys with ADHD and additional high levels of aggressive CD symptoms rejected significantly more ambiguous (i.e., moderately unfair) offers than any other subgroup, suggesting impaired emotion regulation in those with ADHD and aggressive CD. Correlations within the CD group showed that the rejection rate to moderately unfair offers was predicted by aggressive CD symptom severity, but not callous and unemotional traits. These findings highlight the fact that ADHD is a heterogeneous condition from an emotion regulation point of view.