ADHD symptoms in adults linked with stressful life events and negative recall

By Robyn Boyle, RPh
Published November 16, 2017

Key Takeaways

Childhood trauma and other stressful life events may result in negative memory bias—the preferential and more frequent recall of negative memories compared to positive ones—which is associated with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults, according to results of a study published in ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders.

“Recent evidence from a large naturalistic psychiatric cohort suggests that negative memory bias may be a cognitive marker for a broad range of mental disorders, including ADHD,” wrote the study’s authors, led by Janna N. Vrijsen, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. “This supports the current proposition that psychiatric disorders share underlying behavioral and neurobiological dimensions, one of which is negative memory bias.”

To determine what effect stressful life events and memory bias have on the etiology of ADHD, Dr. Vrijsen and her fellow investigators performed association studies in a large sample of 675 self-reported healthy adults. Subjects completed questionnaires to assess life events, affective states, and ADHD symptoms. Memory bias was tested using a computer task.

Their results showed that negative memory bias, but not positive memory bias, was significantly correlated with total ADHD symptoms, including both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. Results also showed that age was significantly correlated to the number of lifetime life events, but not to memory bias variables.

“The current study substantiates earlier suggestive findings showing associations between life events and population ADHD symptoms, and shows that such associations might be particularly driven by childhood traumatic events,” wrote Dr. Vrijsen and colleagues.

They concluded that, “biased processing of emotional information may be a marker for adult ADHD symptom severity in addition to being a risk factor for depression onset, maintenance, and recurrence.”

The investigators noted that factors influencing the continuation of ADHD symptoms into adulthood are still not clearly understood and more study is needed to assess cognitive biases in neurodevelopmental disorders. “Understanding (and in the future possibly predicting) outcome of ADHD in adulthood is crucial to inform treatment options, clinical planning, and lifestyle choices of individuals at risk,” they noted.

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