The response of children with ADHD to failure: If at first you don't succeed, do you try, try again?


This review describes a series of studies employing a learned helplessness paradigm to examine the response to failure of boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In two studies, the persistence and performance attributions of boys with ADHD and nonreferred boys were contrasted; in two other studies, the performance of boys with ADHD was examined under both medication and placebo states. Results revealed that boys with ADHD exhibit many of the characteristics of helpless children. However, unlike what has been established for normal children, boys with ADHD making external attributions for failure actually exhibited a more adaptive response style. In contrast, boys with ADHD making effort attributions for failure were less adaptive and performed more like helpless nonreferred children. Finally, the results provided strong evidence that the use of methylphenidate exerts desirable cognitive-motivational effects. Not only did it enhance performance but such pharmacological treatment seems to facilitate an enhanced mastery orientation when boys with ADHD are challenged.

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