Plugging the Attention Deficit: Perceptual Load Counters Increased Distraction in ADHD

Sophie Forster, David J Robertson, Alistair Jennings, Philip Asherson, Nilli Lavie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Increased vulnerability to extraneous distraction is a key symptom of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which may have particularly disruptive consequences. Here we apply Load Theory of attention to increase understanding of this symptom, and to explore a potential method for ameliorating it. Previous research in nonclinical populations has highlighted increased perceptual load as a means of improving the ability to focus attention and avoid distraction. The present study examines whether adults with ADHD can also benefit from conditions of high perceptual load to improve their focused attention abilities. Method: We tested adults with ADHD and age- and IQ-matched controls on a novel measure of irrelevant distraction under load, designed to parallel the form of distraction that is symptomatic of ADHD. During a letter search task, in which perceptual load was varied through search set size, participants were required to ignore salient yet entirely irrelevant distractors (colorful images of cartoon characters) presented infrequently (10% of trials). Results: The presence of these distractors produced a significantly greater interference effect on the search RTs for the adults with ADHD compared with controls, p = .005, ηp2 = .231. Perceptual load, however, significantly reduced distractor interference for the ADHD group and was as effective in reducing the elevated distractor interference in ADHD as it was for controls. Conclusions: These findings clarify the nature of the attention deficit underlying increased distraction in ADHD, and demonstrate a tangible method for overcoming it.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)N/A
Number of pages7
Issue numberN/A
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 2013


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