Constraints on information processing capacity in adults with ADHD

Walter Roberts, Richard Milich, T. Mark Fillmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: Researchers in the cognitive sciences have demonstrated the existence of processing capacity bottlenecks in the human brain. These capacity bottlenecks restrict our ability to process and act on environmental information. The purpose of the current study was to examine whether adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show reduced capacity of working memory and response selection mechanisms. Method: Thirty-eight young adults with ADHD and 33 comparison adults were assessed using two measures of processing capacity. A dual choice-response task (psychological refractory period [PRP] task) measured response selection capacity, and an n-back task measured working memory capacity. These tasks measured capacity by assessing the degree to which increasing processing load disrupted performance. Results: Results confirmed that performance declined as cognitive load was increased, and this was true for both groups on each task. On the PRP task, the performance decline resulting from increased cognitive load was more pronounced in the ADHD group than in the control group, indicative of reduced response selection capacity in the ADHD group. On the n-back task, however, there was no group difference in the degree to which increasing processing load disrupted performance. Conclusions: Results indicate that adults with ADHD show a specific capacity reduction of response selection. This evidence suggests a dissociation between working memory and response selection capacities, and it may have implications for understanding cognitive dysfunction in adults with ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-703
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2012


  • ADHD
  • Information processing capacity
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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