Do Childhood Emotional Lability and ADHD Symptoms Have Shared Neuropsychological Roots?

Dagmar Van Liefferinge*, Edmund J.S. Sonuga-Barke, Marina Danckaerts, Nady Van Broeck, Saskia van der Oord

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emotional Lability (EL) is a source of impairment in multiple mental disorders of children, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has been proposed that the overlap between EL and ADHD symptoms is the result of common neuropsychological deficits. The aim of the present study was to test this hypothesis by using a multi-method approach. In a mixed sample of 61 children (49 community sample and 12 children with an ADHD diagnosis) aged between 8 and 12 years, we examined the relationship between parental reports of ADHD and EL, real-time children’s emotional expressions in an experimental context, children’s performance on neuropsychological tasks and parental ratings of neuropsychological functioning. Parental EL ratings were significantly predicted by task-based reaction time variability and by questionnaire measures of Self-Direction & Organization and Arousal Regulation. Parental EL ratings were also significantly related to both ADHD symptom dimensions. After controlling for shared neuropsychological factors, ADHD symptoms no longer predicted parental EL ratings. Neuropsychological task performance was not significantly related to real time emotional expressions. However, positive emotional expressions were significantly predicted by higher parental ratings of Cognition and negative emotional expressions by parental ratings of low Effort engagement – accounting for some of the correlation with ADHD symptoms. The current results highlight the plausible role of cognitive energetic processes in explaining the EL and ADHD symptom association.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Emotional lability
  • Multi-method approach
  • Neuropsychological functioning
  • Real-time measures


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