ADHD And Its Link To Childhood Trauma And A Negative Thinking Bias


Childhood Trauma, Stress And ADHD:

There is increasing evidence derived from research studies that ADHD is linked to psychosocial stress, particularly childhood trauma which has been established as a major factor putting the child at increased risk of developing ADHD (e.g. Stevens et al., 2007).

Indeed, there is a growing school of thought expressing the view that many individuals are receiving a diagnosis of ADHD which is erroneous (i.e. a misdiagnosis) and, instead, should have received a diagnosis relating to the effects of traumatic stress (such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder – see my article entitled:Childhood Trauma And ADHD: Is PTSD BEING MISDIAGNOSED AS ADHD?

Negative Thinking Styles May Develop As A Result Of Childhood Trauma :

One major effect of childhood trauma can be to cause us to develop a negative thinking style, particularly if we were rejected, constantly criticized, made to feel unsafe, were denied affection or were neglected and/or otherwise abused.

Recent research suggests that negative thinking resulting from the experience of childhood trauma can contribute to the development of ADHD. (SEE BELOW).

Negative Memory Bias :

Several studies have focused on a particular type of negative thinking that researchers refer to as NEGATIVE MEMORY BIAS (this refers to the tendency to recall and recollect negative memories, rather than positive ones, particularly when it comes to memories relevant to oneself, a phenomenon already known to put individuals at risk of developing emotional problems).


A study conducted by Krauel (2009) found that teenagers diagnosed with ADHD displayed less positive memory bias than non-ADHD individuals.

Another study carried out by d’Acremont and Van der Linden (2007) found that individuals with ADHD symptoms were better able to recall faces with a negative expression (anger) than they were able to remember faces with a positive (happy) expression.

A further study (Vrijsen et al., 2017) suggests that the link between childhood trauma and ADHD symptoms may be, in part, mediated (i.e. brought about) by the negative memory bias caused by the childhood trauma. So, according to this study, the effect of childhood trauma on the development of ADHD symptoms is an indirect one (though more research is needed to investigate this preliminary finding further).

Implications For Treatment :

If indeed, such negative memory bias contributes to the development of ADHD, and further research backs up the hypothesis, then this will serve to elucidate understanding about the relationship between psychosocial stressors (particularly childhood trauma), negative memory bias and ADHD, thereby possibly influencing the direction of research into therapy for ADHD in the future.


d’Acremont and Van der Linden (2007)

Krauel (2009)

Stevens et al., 2007

Vrijsen et al., 2017)





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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE). is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.

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