ADHD and reward processing
: a mixed-methods investigation in analogue and clinical samples

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research (MScR)


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is associated with atypical reward processing and low motivation. Reward processing is a complex behaviour that helps organisms to respond to, become motivated for, and learn from, rewards in their environment. Some theorists have suggested that reward processing and associated deficits of motivation, should be considered aetiologically characteristic of ADHD. Despite decades of research, explicating exact differences in reward processing and motivation between groups with and without ADHD, has proven to be a complex challenge. Reward and ADHD research suffers from a lack of diverse methodology and restricted sampling strategies. The current thesis adds to existing literature by (1) investigating reward motivation and intrinsic motivation in an analogue sample split by level of ADHD traits, (2) studying reward motivation using a combination of objective and subjective measures, and (3) applying qualitative methodology to explore subjective experiences of reward in adults diagnosed with ADHD.
Study 1 results suggested reward motivation, as measured using the Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task (EEfRT) and the Joystick-Operated Runway Task (JORT), is not affected by level of ADHD traits. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation, as measured using the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire, is not affected by level of ADHD traits. Study 2 provides qualitative evidence of how rewards are experienced in daily life by adults with ADHD. Several similarities and differences between theoretical understanding of reward processing in ADHD and lived experience of rewards provided by adults diagnosed with ADHD, are highlighted throughout study 2. In summary, our results show that reward processing may not be affected by traits of ADHD, until such traits reach diagnostic thresholds, at which point, they become influential on one’s daily interactions with rewards. Implications of these findings for clinical practice are highlighted throughout. Suggestions for future research are provided.
Date of Award18 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorChloe Slaney (Supervisor) & Angela S Attwood (Supervisor)

Cite this