Distinct neuropsychological subgroups in typically developing youth inform heterogeneity in children with ADHD

Damien A. Fair, Deepti Bathula, Molly A. Nikolas, Joel T. Nigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

344 Scopus citations


Research and clinical investigations in psychiatry largely rely on the de facto assumption that the diagnostic categories identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) represent homogeneous syndromes. However, the mechanistic heterogeneity that potentially underlies the existing classification scheme might limit discovery of etiology for most developmental psychiatric disorders. Another, perhaps less palpable, reality may also be interfering with progress - heterogeneity in typically developing populations. In this report we attempt to clarify neuropsychological heterogeneity in a large dataset of typically developing youth and youth with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), using graph theory and community detection.Wesought to determine whether data-driven neuropsychological subtypes could be discerned in children with and without the disorder. Because individual classification is the sine qua non for eventual clinical translation, we also apply support vector machine-based multivariate pattern analysis to identify how well ADHD status in individual children can be identified as defined by the community detection delineated subtypes. The analysis yielded several unique, but similar subtypes across both populations. Just as importantly, comparing typically developing children with ADHD children within each of these distinct subgroups increased diagnostic accuracy. Two important principles were identified that have the potential to advance our understanding of typical development and developmental neuropsychiatric disorders. The first tenet suggests that typically developing children can be classified into distinct neuropsychological subgroups with high precision. The second tenet proposes that some of the heterogeneity in individuals with ADHD might be "nested" in this normal variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6769-6774
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 24 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognition
  • Executive functions
  • Modularity
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Research domain criteria


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