Methylphenidate improves theory of mind in children with ADHD

Ritalin pills by SpongeThe stimulant drug methylphenidate (Ritalin) could enhance social functioning in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A study published online June 12 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found methylphenidate was associated with significant improvement in Theory of Mind performance.

Theory of Mind refers to the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others. In other words, Theory of Mind is what allows a person imagine what someone may be thinking, feeling, or what they may do next.

“ToM deficits may play an important role in the impaired social cognition and peer relationship in children with ADHD, especially children with the hyperactive component,” Hagai Maoz of Tel-Aviv University and his colleagues explained in their study. “Stimulants, known to endorse a significant improvement in cognitive functions, may also improve ToM and empathic functions, and even more so in children with poorer baseline ToM performance.”

For their study, the researchers recruited 24 children with ADHD from the Shalvata Mental Health Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel. The children performed two tasks to measure Theory of Mind.

Maoz and his colleagues found that when the children had taken their ADHD medication they performed significantly better on the two tasks. They were better able to spot an awkward social situation and judge mental states based on verbal cues and facial expressions.

“Given the significant social and interpersonal impairments that often accompany ADHD, the decision whether to treat a child with ADHD and how, should take into account this potential benefit,” the researchers concluded in the study. “Future studies including larger samples and additional cognitive tasks are necessary in order to generalize our results and to identify possible underlying mechanisms for improvement in ToM following the administration of MPH.”

The study was co-authored by Lior Tsviban, Hila Z Gvirtz, Simone G Shamay-Tsoory, Yechiel Levkovitz, Nathan Watemberg, and Yuval Bloch.

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