Although it has been shown that adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have impaired social cognition, no previous study has reported the brain correlates of face valence processing. This study looked for behavioral, neuropsychological, and electrophysiological markers of emotion processing for faces (N170) in adult ADHD compared to controls matched by age, gender, educational level, and handedness. We designed an event-related potential (ERP) study based on a dual valence task (DVT), in which faces and words were presented to test the effects of stimulus type (faces, words, or face-word stimuli) and valence (positive versus negative). Individual signatures of cognitive functioning in participants with ADHD and controls were assessed with a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, including executive functioning (EF) and theory of mind (ToM). Compared to controls, the adult ADHD group showed deficits in N170 emotion modulation for facial stimuli. These N170 impairments were observed in the absence of any deficit in facial structural processing, suggesting a specific ADHD impairment in early facial emotion modulation. The cortical current density mapping of N170 yielded a main neural source of N170 at posterior section of fusiform gyrus (maximum at left hemisphere for words and right hemisphere for faces and simultaneous stimuli). Neural generators of N170 (fusiform gyrus) were reduced in ADHD. In those patients, N170 emotion processing was associated with performance on an emotional inference ToM task, and N170 from simultaneous stimuli was associated with EF, especially working memory. This is the first report to reveal an adult ADHD-specific impairment in the cortical modulation of emotion for faces and an association between N170 cortical measures and ToM and EF.
- Adult ADHD