The association between risky decision making and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms: A preregistered assessment of need for cognition as underlying mechanism

Jacqueline N. Zadelaar, Tycho J. Dekkers*, Hilde M. Huizenga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is related to suboptimal decision making in experimental tasks and to real-life risk-taking behavior (RTB) such as substance abuse and unsafe traffic conduct. In this preregistered study, we tested whether these associations are mediated by need for cognition—the extent to which one tends towards, and enjoys, analytical thought. In a large sample of young adults (N = 463, Mage = 19.7 years), we tested whether need for cognition mediated the association between self-reported ADHD symptoms on the one hand and decision-making strategy complexity on an experimental gambling task and self-reported real-life RTB on the other hand. Preregistered confirmatory analyses indicated first that ADHD symptoms were positively associated with real-life RTB, but the association was not mediated by need for cognition. Second, ADHD symptoms were not related to decision-making strategy complexity, and need for cognition was not a significant mediator. Explorative analyses revealed that (a) need for cognition was associated with higher decision-making accuracy and slower reaction time; (b) need for cognition was related to inattentive but not to hyperactive/impulsive ADHD symptoms; (c) need for cognition was associated with health-related RTB but not interpersonal RTB; and (4) only the association between inattention and health-related RTB was mediated by need for cognition. We conclude that need for cognition is not a mediator in the association between ADHD symptoms and RTB. Additionally, we conclude that neither ADHD symptoms nor need for cognition predict decision-making strategy complexity. Implications for both future research and clinical practice are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-592
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Cite this