Working Memory Demands Impair Skill Acquisition in Children With ADHD

Cynthia L. Huang-Pollock, Sarah L. Karalunas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


This study examined the process of cognitive skill acquisition under differential working memory (WM) load conditions in children with the primarily inattentive (n = 21) and the combined (n = 32) subtypes of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and compared the results with those of non-ADHD controls (n = 48). Children completed 2 tasks of cognitive skill acquisition: alphabet arithmetic and finger math. The tasks differed in the amount of WM required for execution (alphabet arithmetic required more) but were otherwise matched with respect to logical structure, design, and discriminatory power. As would be predicted if the WM of the to-be-learned task affected the ability of children with ADHD to develop automaticity for a complex cognitive skill, ADHD-related impairments in the development of automaticity were seen for alphabet arithmetic but not for finger math. Results not only are relevant to ongoing debate regarding the presence of effortful versus automatic cognitive deficits in ADHD but also have implications for the development of new psychoeducational interventions for children with ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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