ADHD News & Research

Time Training: A New Behavior Therapy for Impulsivity?

A recent study suggests that children and adults with ADHD can be trained to rein in impulsivity with deferred-gratification exercises. This finding could lead to new alternative treatments for impulsive people with ADHD who hate to wait.

February 5, 2015

Adults and children with ADHD often complain of poor impulse control, which leads them to do and say things without stopping to consider consequences. Researchers at Kansas State University believe this impulsivity traces back to a common ADHD trait: a hatred for waiting. They hypothesized that people with ADHD are less likely to delay gratification, therefore they do not experience the rewards that often come with waiting. They also believed this tendency could be changed with behavior therapy.

The researchers tested this idea in a new study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Processes, by using time-based training to change behavior in rats.

Over the course of three experiments, scientists tested the rats’ ability to choose a greater reward rather than a shorter wait. They gave rats the choice of two levers. One released one pellet of food after a 10-second waiting period. The second released two pellets of food after a 30-second waiting period. After several time-based training sessions, they found that the rats learned to develop better self-control, choosing lever two more often.

One of the authors, Kimberly Kirkpatrick, is hopeful that, “These interventions can help those more impulsive individuals learn not to choose the chocolate cake — at least not every time.” The researchers are in the process of developing a space invader game that could teach children that waiting can earn greater prizes. Their hope is that behavioral interventions like these will become a piece of the ADHD treatment arsenal — an alternative or supplement to traditional medications. This training is not a cure for impulsivity, but rather a form of behavior therapy designed to discourage impulsive decisions and strengthen the self-control muscle.