What’s the Role of Error Processing in ADHD?

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If you make a mistake and don’t realize you’ve made a mistake, is it still a mistake? The answer is pretty clearly yes. In fact, sometimes a mistake becomes an even bigger mistake if you don’t catch it early enough.

Most people with ADHD are probably familiar with this principle. We have a way of making inattentive mistakes that glide under our awareness, unnoticed. Until, of course, they eventually are noticed: “what the hell was I thinking?” we ask at that point.

In recent years, ADHD researchers have become interested in the idea that differences in error processing are an essential part of ADHD. Trouble monitoring errors seems to be part of the reason people with ADHD struggle with self-regulation, and it could explain some of the ways certain brain differences relate to ADHD symptoms. Beyond that, ADHD meds apparently normalize some brain regions involved in faulty error processing.

When psychologists and neuroscientists study error processing in people with ADHD, they don’t follow these people around and watch how many times these people put the milk in the cupboard without noticing. Rather, they usually set these people up to do laboratory tasks and watch for certain patterns of brain activity that are associated with recognizing errors.

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