Reports of Perceived Adverse Events of Stimulant Medication on Cognition, Motivation, and Mood: Qualitative Investigation and the Generation of Items for the Medication and Cognition Rating Scale

Hanna Kovshoff, Tobias Banaschewski, Jan K. Buitelaar, Sara Carucci, David Coghill, Marina Danckaerts, Ralf W. Dittmann, Bruno Falissard, Dina Gojkovic Grimshaw, Chris Hollis, Sarah Inglis, Kerstin Konrad, Elizabeth Liddle, Suzanne McCarthy, Peter Nagy, Margaret Thompson, Ian C K Wong, Alessandro Zuddas, Edmund J S Sonuga-Barke

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Objective: There is no questionnaire to specifically monitor perceived adverse events of methylphenidate (MPH) on cognition, motivation, and mood. The current study therefore had two goals. First, to harvest accounts of such putative events from transcripts of interviews in samples enriched for such potential experiences. Second, to use the derived data to generate items for a new questionnaire that can be used for monitoring such events in medication trials or routine clinical care. 

Methods: Following a literature search aimed at identifying associations between MPH and cognition and/or motivation, a qualitative semistructured interview was designed to focus specifically on the domains of cognition (i.e., reasoning, depth/breadth of thinking, intellectual capacity, and creativity) and motivation (i.e., drive, effort, and attitudes toward rewards/incentives). Interviews were conducted with 45 participants drawn from the following four groups: (a) clinicians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, and pediatricians specializing in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (n = 15); (2) teachers, with experience of teaching at least 10 medicated children with ADHD (n = 10); (3) parents of children with ADHD (n = 8) treated with MPH; and (4) adolescents/adults with ADHD (n = 12). Purposeful sampling was used to selectively recruit ADHD participants whose histories suggested a degree of vulnerability to MPH adverse events. Data were analyzed using a deductive approach to content analysis. 

Results: While we probed purposefully for cognitive and motivational adverse events, a third domain, related to mood, emerged from the reports. Therefore, three domains, each with a number of subdomains, were identified from the interview accounts: (i) Cognition (six subdomains; attention/concentration, changes in thinking, reduced creativity, sensory overload, memory, slower processing speed); (ii) motivation (four subdomains; loss of intrinsic motivation for goal-directed activities, external locus of control, lack of effort/engagement in daily tasks, increased focus on incentives); and (iii) mood (three subdomains; dampening of spontaneity/flat affect, mood dysregulation, increased anxiety/edginess). On the basis of these reports, 34 items were specified and incorporated into a prototype questionnaire, which was piloted and refined on the basis of field-testing. 

Conclusions: Items were identified that capture potential/perceived cognitive, motivational, and mood-related adverse events of MPH. The items generated will allow us to further develop and psychometrically examine their prevalence, and the extent to which they are associated with medication adherence, treatment outcome, impairment, and other reported adverse events (e.g., loss of appetite/cardiovascular effects).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-547
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number6
Early online date23 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


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