ADHD Blog Post

Evaluating Financial Decision-Making in Adults With ADHD

A Dutch and German team compared the performance of 45 adults with ADHD and 51 normally developing controls on a battery of standardized tests and questionnaires designed to assess competence in financial decision-making (FDM). These were supplemented with neuropsychological tests, as well as evaluations of each participant’s personal financial situation.

The two groups had roughly comparable demographic characteristics. There were no significant differences in age, gender balance, years of education, or work status. Students were excluded from both groups because they tend to be financially dependent and to have little or no income.

The ADHD group scored more than three times higher on self-report questionnaires for both the retrospective assessment of childhood symptoms (Wender Utah Rating Scale—Childhood) and for evaluating current symptoms of ADHD (ADHD self-report scale). Researchers did not perform clinical evaluations of ADHD.

To determine their personal financial situation, participants were asked about their income range as well as, “Do you have debts other than mortgage or study loans?”; “Do you receive social security?”; “Do you have a savings account?”; “Do you save actively, that is, do you put money on your savings account on a regular basis?”; “Do you save for retirement?”; and “Do you own a house?” They were also asked how much they set aside in monthly savings, and, where applicable, how much they receive in social security.

On five out of nine criteria, significant differences emerged between the two groups. Whereas healthy controls had median incomes in the range of €35,000 to €45,000, for those with ADHD it was dramatically lower, between €15,000 and €25,000. Healthy controls also had twice as much disposable income. Whereas almost half of adults with ADHD reported debts other than a mortgage or educational loans, only a third as many healthy adults had such debt. And whereas only slightly over half of those with ADHD reported having savings accounts, among healthy adults, it was more than six out of seven. Finally, healthy controls were four times as likely to own a home.

Participants were then given standardized tests to evaluate financial competence, financial decision-making capacity, financial decision styles, the ability to make financial decisions using decision rules, the capacity to make decisions with implications for the future, impulsive buying tendencies, and a gambling task as a measure of emotional decision-making.

Adults with ADHD scored significantly lower than healthy adults on the financial competence test, and in particular, on financial abilities, financial judgment, financial management, and financial support resources. Similar outcomes emerged from the financial decision-making capacity test, especially when it came to identifying and understanding relevant information. Adults with ADHD were also significantly more likely to use avoidant and spontaneous decision styles. They also showed significantly more temporal discounting, meaning they tended to prefer immediate gratification over long-term financial security. That translated into significantly higher propensities to buy on impulse. In all cases, these differences had large effect sizes.

Finally, participants were tested on nine cognitive functions: information processing speed, vigilance and selective attention, inhibition, interference, figural fluency, cognitive flexibility, task switching, verbal working memory, and numeracy.

Those with ADHD performed significantly worse, with medium effect sizes, on three cognitive measures: vigilance, interference, and numeracy. There were no significant differences on the other six measures.

The authors concluded, “The results show that the personal financial situation of adults with ADHD was less optimal than the financial situation of healthy controls. Furthermore, adults with ADHD showed significantly decreased performances compared with healthy controls in five out of seven tasks measuring FDM and on measures of vigilance, interference, and numeracy. However, mediation analyses indicated that differences in cognitive functioning cannot fully explain the differences with regard to FDM between adults with ADHD and healthy controls.”

They also pointed to the limitations of the study. One is that 19 of the 45 adults with ADHD had comorbid disorders, of which three were substance dependencies. However, removing them had little effect on the outcome. Another limitation was that adults with ADHD were off medication during the testing, so it is unclear how stimulants would affect the test outcomes. The authors state, “The influence of treatment use should, therefore, be explored in future research on FDM and adults with ADHD.”

Dorien F. Bangma, et al., “Financial Decision-Making in Adults With ADHD,” Neuropsychology (2019),