Thursday, April 1, 2010

Behavior affects brain activity in ADHD kids

Okay, this is certifiably weird. Behavioral interventions influence ADHD in the same way that medication does. That is, "by normalising activity in the same brain systems."

The computer task was capturing the green aliens while avoiding the black aliens. ADHD kids were better at it when they were on their meds, and this also showed up as more normal EEGs. It turned out if you gave the kids either rewards for succeeding or penalties for failing at the alien-capturing game,  their EEGs changed in the same way, though the effect was greater with the drugs.
"When the children were given rewards or penalties, their attention and self-control was much improved," says Dr Maddie Groom, first author of the study. "We suspect that both medication and motivational incentives work by making a task more appealing, capturing the child's attention and engaging his or her brain response control systems."
It's interesting that the rewards had to be immediate and consistent to work.

The drug these kids were on (methylphenidate) is thought to increase dopamine levels. I guess it's plausible that the prospect of a reward or penalty could increase dopamine levels in the brain. Why not? Or it could work through another mechanism.Why not? Everything is always more complicated than you think it is.

So it's not really weird, just an interesting coincidence that leads us again into questions of biological influences on behavior.

It also gives a big boost to the idea of behavioral therapies' affecting the biology of the brain. The practical implications of it are, if you have a choice between changing the brain chemistry by adding a chemical to it or by changing a behavior, why wouldn't you pick changing the behavior? (You do know I'm not a doctor, don't you? You realize this is advice from a humanities major, not a scientist.) The researchers say you could maybe do it for moderate ADHD, because the effect of behavioral change, though in the same place as medication, is not of the same magnitude. Drugs give a bigger effect, and so should be used in the more severe cases.

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