Adaptive behavior requires the adjustment of one’s behavioral repertoire to situational demands. The learning of situationally appropriate choice behavior can be operationalized as a task of Conditional Discrimination Learning (CDL). CDL requires the acquisition of hierarchical reinforcement relations, which may pose a particular challenge for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), particularly in light of documented deficits in short-term/working memory and delay aversion in ADHD. Using an arbitrary Delayed Matching-To-Sample task, we investigated whether children with ADHD (N = 46), relative to Typically Developing children (TD, N = 55), show a deficit in CDL under different choice delays (0, 8, and 16 s) and whether these differences are mediated by short-term/working memory capacity and/or delay aversion. Children with ADHD demonstrated poorer CDL than TD children under 8 and 16-second delays. Non-delayed CDL performance did not differ between groups. CDL differences were not mediated by short-term/working memory performance or delay aversion. Moreover, CDL performance under an 8-second delay was a better predictor of clinical status than short-term/working memory performance or delay aversion. CDL, under conditions of delay, is impaired in children with ADHD. This may lead to difficulties discriminating between different situational demands and adapting behavior according to the prevailing reward contingencies or expectations.
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