The role of affect decoding and encoding in the social relationships of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Date of Completion

January 1995


Education, Educational Psychology




This study examined the ability of children with ADHD to interpret and express affect and the relationship of such behavior with social skills functioning. Concern over the social difficulties manifested by children with ADHD has largely been due to outcome studies documenting negative long term experiences. Investigation in this area has been linked to understanding the nature of ADHD itself which has been complicated by a history of changing definitions, conceptualizations, and purported underlying constructs. There has been little research exploring the role of affect in the social relationships of children with ADHD.^ In this study children with ADHD (n = 21) were compared with matched normal controls (n = 21) on a modified version of Pictures of Facial Affect. Accuracy and response times were recorded for the emotions of happy, surprise, sad, angry, fear, and disgust. Both groups participated in a second task requiring each subject to non-verbally express the same six emotions on video tape. Groups of peer judges later viewed the tapes to evaluate encoding accuracy, and make Quality and Likability ratings.^ Social skills ratings were obtained on the Student, Parent, and Teacher Forms of the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). On this same instrument Problem Behaviors were obtained by parents and teachers and an Academic Competence measure by teachers only. Subjects were screened using the Children's Attention and Adjustment Survey (CAAS) and the Child Attention Profile (CAP).^ T-test results of the Total score revealed children with ADHD to be significantly less accurate interpreters of facial emotions (total score) but more favorably rated as a potential friend. Groups were similar in rank order of accurately interpreting and expressing the six emotions. With the exception of self-perceived social skills, the SSRS, CAAS, and CAP scores significantly differentiated the two groups. Correlational analysis between affective and behavioral ratings revealed a low positive correlation between decoding ability and parent rated social skills (r =.35). Regression analysis showed Conduct Problems and Impulsivity to be most predictive of social skill functioning, accounting for 78% of the variance. Theoretical and practical implications and recommendations for further research were discussed. ^