Increased reaction time variability in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as a response-related phenomenon: evidence from single-trial event-related potentials Academic Article uri icon


  • Background Increased intra-subject variability (ISV) in reaction times (RTs) is a promising endophenotype for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and among the most robust hallmarks of the disorder. ISV has been assumed to represent an attentional deficit, either reflecting lapses in attention or increased neural noise. Here, we use an innovative single-trial event-related potential approach to assess whether the increased ISV associated with ADHD is indeed attributable to attention, or whether it is related to response-related processing. Methods We measured electroencephalographic responses to working memory oddball tasks in patients with ADHD (N = 20, aged 11.3 ± 1.1) and healthy controls (N = 25, aged 11.7 ± 1.1), and analysed these data with a recently developed method of single-trial event-related potential analysis. Estimates of component latency variability were computed for the stimulus-locked and response-locked forms of the P3b and the lateralised readiness potential (LRP). Results ADHD patients showed significantly increased ISV in behavioural ISV. This increased ISV was paralleled by an increase in variability in response-locked event-related potential latencies, while variability in stimulus-locked latencies was equivalent between groups. This result held across the P3b and LRP. Latency of all components predicted RTs on a single-trial basis, confirming that all were relevant for speed of processing. Conclusions These data suggest that the increased ISV found in ADHD could be associated with response-end, rather than stimulus-end processes, in contrast to prevailing conceptions about the endophenotype. This mental chronometric approach may also be useful for exploring whether the existing lack of specificity of ISV to particular psychiatric conditions can be improved upon.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015