Rewards could work in the same way as drugs for ADHD

Monday 19th April, 2010

Scientists have claimed that rewards could work in the same way as medication on the brains of children with attention-deficit disorders.

A team from Nottingham University studied the effects of ‘behaviour therapy’ by measuring the activity of the brain while children played a computer game.

The game involved children trying to catch aliens of a certain colour while avoiding aliens of a different colour with the intention of testing the child’s ability to resist catching the wrong coloured alien.

Less impulsive behaviour was rewarded by giving extra points. In one variant of the game, for every correct alien caught the reward was five-fold, as was the penalty for catching the wrong one.

The scientists found that incentives helped children perform better although not to the extent of a normal dose of Ritalin – a common drug used in the treatment of ADHD.

However, the research team believe a combination of drugs and incentives could mean lower dosages of medication while still maintaining behaviour.

“Although medication and behaviour therapy appear to be two very different approaches of treating ADHD, our study suggests that both types of intervention may have much in common in terms of their effect on the brain,” said lead researcher Professor Chris Hollis.

However, Professor Hollis did concede that this type of combination therapy may not always be practical particularly in a classroom environment. This was echoed by attention-deficit support groups.

“It means you have to be in front of that child 24/7, and you just can’t do that,” said Andrea Bilbow, from the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (Addiss).

“Teachers and schools would have to totally change the way they deal with this.”



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