The ability to maximize rewards and minimize the costs of obtaining them is vital to making advantageous explore/exploit decisions. Exploratory decisions are theorized to be greater among individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), potentially due to deficient catecholamine transmission. Here, we examined the effects of ADHD status and methylphenidate, a common ADHD medication, on explore/exploit decisions using a 6-armed bandit task. We hypothesized that ADHD participants would make more exploratory decisions than controls, and that MPH would reduce group differences. On separate study days, adults with (n = 26) and without (n = 23) ADHD completed the bandit task at baseline, and after methylphenidate or placebo in counter-balanced order. Explore/exploit decisions were modeled using reinforcement learning algorithms. ADHD participants made more exploratory decisions (i.e., chose options without the highest expected reward value) and earned fewer points than controls in all three study days, and methylphenidate did not affect these outcomes. Baseline exploratory choices were positively associated with hyperactive ADHD symptoms across all participants. These results support several theoretical models of increased exploratory choices in ADHD and suggest the unexplained variance in ADHD decisions may be due to less value tracking. The inability to suppress actions with little to no reward value may be a key feature of hyperactive ADHD symptoms.

Ref: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-020-00881-8