IoPPN researchers celebrate wins at the ACAMH Awards 2023

IoPPN researchers celebrate wins at the ACAMH Awards 2023

IoPPN researchers celebrate wins at the ACAMH Awards 2023

The ACAMH Awards recognise work of exceptional quality in the discipline of child and adolescent mental health.

a young girl holding a leaf

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) won awards and commendations at the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH) Awards ceremony on 9 November 2023. To be nominated for an ACAMH Award is a prestigious recognition of those who are at the forefront of the advancement of child and adolescent mental health research, and practice.

Digital Innovation Award for Best Digital Intervention

Dr Johnny Downs was announced as winner of the Digital Innovation Award at the ACAMH Awards Ceremony. This award is presented to a clinician who has put evidence base into practice within the information technology and digital fields of child and adolescent mental health.

I feel incredibly honoured to receive this award from ACAMH, although naming me as individual belies how much of the work is driven by the team I’m a part of. I am so grateful to my wonderful colleagues at the CAMHS Digital Lab, who are driven by a shared mission to enhance the access and engagement of evidence based mental health interventions for children, young people and their families, and crucially, support CAMHS practitioners and make their working lives better.

I do want to say a very special thanks to my colleagues: Dr Alice Wickersham, Craig Colling and Jess Penhallow who are wonderful to work with, and who mischievously submitted this nomination without my knowledge. And finally thank you to ACAMH, who through this award category highlights those who do important interdisciplinary CAMH research and practice using mental health digital interventions. I would urge everyone to look all the nominees for this category, and great work they are doing.

Dr Johnny Downs

Senior Clinical Lecturer (Honorary Consultant) in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at IoPPN

Dr Johnny Downs is an NIHR Clinician Scientist at the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent lead, Centre for Translational Informatics. His research focuses on the use of digital information for epidemiological studies examining risks factors and outcomes for childhood neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders. Dr Downs is the founding lead of the CAMHS Digital Lab with the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and is a co-investigator at the NIHR Children and Families Policy Research Unit.

Research Trainee of the Year Award

The Research Trainee of the Year Award was presented to Dr Genevieve Morneau-Vaillancourt, from the school of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences at the IoPPN. This award is given to a trainee or student who is less than two years post PhD and who has shown initiative or made a significant contribution to child and adolescent mental health.

“I feel very honoured and privileged to receive The Research Trainee of the Year Award from ACAMH! I have the privilege of working with fantastic colleagues from the EDIT lab, TNG lab, and TEDS team at the SGDP Centre. I am lucky to be supported by great mentors, particularly Professor Thalia Eley, who inspires me and has taught me so much about research, making important decisions as an early career researcher, and managing work-life balance in academia. This award is a fabulous recognition of the work I have conducted along with my colleagues on the role of peer relationships in driving risk for mental health problems in children and adolescents and will support me in further examining these questions using different genetic approaches. Huge congratulations to the other nominees!

Dr Genevieve Morneau-Vaillancourt

Post-doctoral Research Fellow at IoPPN

Dr Genevieve Morneau-Vaillancourt is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow whose research interests include understanding why some children and adolescents suffer from persistent anxiety and depression and which factors exacerbate these internalising problems over time.

David Cottrell ‘Education of CAMH Professionals’ Award

Dr Mark Kennedy was highly commended in the category of Education of CAMH Professionals Award, an award which focuses on professionals having a significant impact upon the education or training of those working in child and adolescent mental health care.

“Firstly I’d like to say a big thank you to those who contributed to the course and to all the students on it. Also, I would like to say a huge congratulations to the winners and other nominees for their inspiring work.”

Dr Mark Kennedy

Lecturer in Mental Health Education at IoPPN

Dr Mark Kennedy is a Senior Teaching Fellow as part of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at the IoPPN in the School of Academic Psychiatry. He was also a researcher on the English and Romanian Adoptees (ERA) study at King’s College London. His work has focused on the developmental outcomes of extreme early adversity, including ADHD/neurodevelopmental disorders, attachment and mental health.

Further IoPPN researchers were shortlisted for awards: Ms Alice Stephens for Digital Innovation Award for Best Research on Digital Impact, Miss Emelia Pasternak-Albert for Clinical Trainee of the Year Award and the SPARK Research Team for Innovative Research, Training or Practice in Low and Middle Income Countries.

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

Parent and child experiences of racism affect whole family’s mental health, according to new study

Parent and child experiences of racism affect whole family’s mental health, according to new study

Parent and child experiences of racism affect whole family’s mental health, according to new study

Parents’ experiences of racism affect their children’s mental health and vice versa, according to a new briefing published today, on World Mental Health Day, by Centre for Mental Health and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

a young girl holding a leaf

A constant battle finds that racism has far-reaching impacts on parents, their children, and the relationships between them. Based on IoPPN research with both parents and teenagers from UK racialised communities, the briefing finds that both past and present experiences of racism can affect mental health across generations of a family.

The study provides more evidence that racism has a profound and negative impact on a person’s mental health. One participant described the daily fight against racism as “a constant battle that knocks you”. Parents referred to the “heavy” sadness of seeing their child experience racism at school, and one participant described “always [being] in that high-stress sensitive state because you’re always being triggered”. Another participant referred to the heightened fear for themselves and their family caused by racist threats on social media following England’s loss at Euro 2020.

A constant battle finds that daily experiences of racism also influence parent-child relationships, with parents attempting to limit their children’s exposure to racism and having to answer their children’s questions about racism.

The briefing calls on the Government to commit to tackling all forms of racism through a cross-government strategy. It also says that the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England should fully resource work with racialised communities to design more racially equitable mental health support.

There are cascading effects in families following experiences of racism – impacting parenting, parent-child relationships, and family mental health. Parents and teenagers shared their first-hand knowledge and experiences through this research. Teenagers described growing up in British society that is biased against them and their parents, which they hope will change. Meanwhile, parents grappled with the reality that racism impacts their children, after generations of battling for change, and that their children must learn to adapt and cope. Our work documents urgent need for action by policymakers, teachers, mental health practitioners and researchers, who can help alleviate the burden on families facing racism.

Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh

Postdoctoral Research Associate at King's IoPPN

Kadra Abdinasir, Associate Director of Policy at Centre for Mental Health, said: “We know that racism harms people’s mental health and can have a lasting impact. This research builds on earlier studies demonstrating the trauma racism causes, while also highlighting the shared and distinct experiences of parents and teenagers in the UK. Like other forms of trauma, racial trauma requires a deep understanding and action from a broad range of practitioners and policymakers to better protect and support those affected.”

The research is the culmination of the TRADE Project (Transmission of experiences of Racism, Anxiety and Depression in families), which has been reviewing existing research and talking with parents and adolescents whose communities have historically experienced racism to better understand how experiences of racism can affect mental health, and how these negative experiences can transmit between generations. The TRADE Project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Emerging Minds Network, which is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

For more information, contact

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

New parenting app reduced child emotional difficulties during COVID-19 pandemic

New parenting app reduced child emotional difficulties during COVID-19 pandemic

New parenting app reduced child emotional difficulties during COVID-19 pandemic

New research finds a novel parenting smartphone app, developed by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, reduced child emotional problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), the Supporting Parents And Kids Through Lockdown Experiences (SPARKLE) trial – a collaboration between King’s and the University of Oxford – investigated whether Parent Positive was effective in reducing child emotional and conduct problems and improving parents’ own wellbeing, and whether improvements were achieved in a cost-effective way.

Researchers followed 646 parents with children aged between four and 10 between May and July 2021, with 320 receiving access to Parent Positive compared with 326 who did not. They found that Parent Positive reduced child emotional problems after both one and two months of access to the app, compared to not having app access at all. This was found to be a cost-effective way of reducing children’s emotional problems.

We believe our study is the first clinical trial of a parenting support app designed specifically to support parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, we quickly developed Parent Positive to help mitigate the impact on children’s emotional and conduct problems. We found that, on average, families who had access to the app reported reduced child emotional problems compared to those who did not. The findings highlight that, if implemented across the general UK population, Parent Positive could have the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing child emotional problems.

Dr Melanie Palmer

Postdoctoral Research Associate at King’s IoPPN and first author of the JMIR article

The COVID-19 lockdowns presented parents with some extraordinary challenges. Getting face-to-face support to them using traditional approaches was very challenging during this period. The results from the SPARKLE trial highlight the potential of digital approaches as a way of disseminating advice and support to parents that can produce tangible results. We are hopeful that this approach can have many uses in the post-COVID world in providing a resource to families in underserved or marginalised communities or utilised as part of first-line interventions in hard pressed services.

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke

Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry & Neuroscience at King’s IoPPN and Principal Investigator on SPARKLE

Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, access to the app did not lead to significant improvements in child conduct problems, despite the advice on managing difficult behaviours it provided. Researchers also found no evidence that those who had access to the app experienced less parent psychological distress, parental child-related worries, or family conflict than those who did not. In fact, there was an increase in child-related parental worries after two-months. The researchers explain that this may be due to the difficulties related to changing parenting styles and routines, or the increase in awareness of good parenting practices leading to insecurity about their parenting skills.

The researchers collaborated with parents of young children across all aspects of the study to better understand their views on how the app could address their support needs. They are now co-developing the app further to improve usability, increase engagement and improve the positive effects for parents and their children.

SPARKLE was funded by the UK Research and Innovation Economic and Social Research Council (UKRI-ESRC).

‘The effectiveness of a universal digital parenting intervention designed and implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from a rapid implementation randomised controlled trial within a cohort’ (Melanie Palmer, Nicholas Beckley-Hoelscher, James Shearer, Katarzyna Kostyrka-Allchorne, Olly Robertson, Marta Koch, Oliver Pearson, Petr Slovak, Crispin Day, Sarah Byford, Kimberley Goldsmith, Polly Waite, Cathy Creswell & Edmund J S Sonuga-Barke) was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (DOI: 10.2196/44079).

For more information, please contact Amelia Remmington (Communications & Engagement Officer).

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

£4.5M awarded to South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for cutting-edge research equipment and technology

£4.5M awarded to South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for cutting-edge research equipment and technology

£4.5M awarded to South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for cutting-edge research equipment and technology

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has awarded more than £4.5 million to South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust to pay for new research equipment and technology.

a young girl holding a leaf

This will be used to improve the accessibility of the Trust’s research so more patients and service users have the opportunity to take part in research. It will include a new sleep laboratory, equipment for the Informatics theme of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and resources for the new Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People.

New sleep laboratory at the NIHR King’s Clinical Research Facility (CRF)

This investment will allow the creation of a sleep laboratory to study the impact of disturbed sleep on brain functioning and mental health. This will be based in the NIHR King’s Clinical Research Facility and the funding will refurbish existing space for private rooms and purchase new equipment designed for sleep studies. When not used for sleep research, these new facilities will be available as generic clinical space for experimental medicine, thus increasing our capacity for studies across the CRF’s portfolio.

The sleep laboratory will be a leader in this field, building on existing strengths in the development of both silent and motion insensitive MRI, relationships with industry and the UK’s largest clinical sleep service that spans across King’s Health Partners

Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People

The equipment and facilities of the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People will revolutionize the type and scope of research undertaken, enhancing our understanding of the relationship between brain-based mechanisms, clinical disorders, and social context.

This funding will pay for an MRI compatible EEG system for imaging infants to be used in perinatal services and additional eye tracking equipment that is specifically helpful for younger children who find it difficult to sit still during data capture.

The equipment will enable researchers to explore the interplay between brain and social/environmental risk factors such as trauma exposure, poverty, parental mental illness with an aim to investigate potential prevention targets.

NIHR Maudsley BRC Informatics

The funding will provide dedicated BRC storage and high-performance computing facilities to enable the informatics team to process large datasets. This hardware will enhance research capacity and capability, supporting the development of large language models and increasing the speed of testing of deep learning models. It will also support the creation of a  Mobile Health and Speech Lab which  include a collection of devices and speech equipment to ensure a standardised process for testing, benchmarking, piloting, and evaluating existing and emerging devices for data collection.

“We are delighted that the NIHR has chosen to award £4.5m to South London and Maudsley. It will fund equipment for our new Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People to enable our academics and clinicians to continue their world-leading research into the prevention and treatment of mental illness.”

David Bradley

Chief Executive Officer, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

“This investment will allow us to purchase equipment, technology and hardware, across the NIHR Maudsley BRC, NIHR King’s CRF and for the Pears Maudsley Centre. Not only will this enhance our research capacity and capability, it will also improve the experience of participants in research, particularly children and people with mental health conditions, because our facilities have been designed with their needs in mind.  We are delighted that our application was considered excellent by the NIHR committee.”

Professor Matthew Hotopf

CBE FRCPsych FMedSci, Director of the NIHR Maudsley BRC, and Vice Dean (Research), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

When bad experiences trigger anxiety: childhood trauma and PTSD

When bad experiences trigger anxiety: childhood trauma and PTSD

When bad experiences trigger anxiety: childhood trauma and PTSD
Professor Andrea Danese

Professor Andrea Danese

Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Shockingly, up to 80% of children are exposed to trauma by the age of 18 in the UK. With the theme of World Mental Health Awareness Week being ‘anxiety’, we have an opportunity to unpack how childhood trauma can lead to anxiety – and in some of the more serious cases, a particular type of anxiety disorder called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

a young girl holding a leaf

Traumas are events that involve danger of death, serious injury or sexual assault. After experiencing trauma, it’s not unusual for children to develop emotional and behavioural symptoms: they might become tearful, upset or clingy; struggle to pay attention or to sleep; or even get headaches and tummy aches. This is a normal psychological response and not a psychiatric disorder. However, by age 18, around one in four children exposed to trauma will have developed PTSD. This means they will begin to experience very severe, impairing or persistent symptoms, such as re-living the trauma, developing avoidance strategies, and experiencing physiological hyper-arousal.

Because not all children who experience trauma develop PTSD, it is important to understand how to identify the more vulnerable children in order to provide adequate support and treatment. Through my work in the Stress & Development Lab at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), my team and I aim to understand how traumatic experiences in childhood affect mental and physical health, how to identify those children at greatest risk of developing PTSD, and how to support children who have experienced trauma.

How traumatic experiences in childhood affect health

In PTSD, abnormal processing of traumatic memories leads to persistent re-experiencing of the event through unwanted and distressing memories or nightmares, particularly when there are triggers that resemble the context in which the traumatic event occurred.

Traumatic experiences require significant adaptations by the developing child. At a molecular level, the hormonal and immune systems are overactive to support facing or escaping from danger and recovering from injuries. At a neurobiological level, the brain becomes more aware of potential threats. At the psychological level, the traumatic experiences are encoded in autobiographical memories to minimise future threats. At the social level, the threats in the environment may lead to withdrawal and reduction in social connections.

The association of childhood maltreatment with biomarkers of inflammation. Graph from ‘Childhood maltreatment predicts adult inflammation in a life-course study’, Danese et al. (2007).

Although these adaptations can be helpful to reduce threats, they may lead over time to maladaptive outcomes including mental health problems. For example, inflammation levels are higher in individuals who have experienced maltreatment compared to those who haven’t, and are associated with mental health problems later on.

In the Stress & Development Lab, we have conducted several detailed epidemiological studies based on large population-based birth cohorts to, firstly, investigate the impact of childhood trauma exposure on mental health outcomes, and secondly, identify which children are most at risk of developing PTSD.

Through analyses in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study (which observed twins born between 1994-95 until they were aged 18 years), in a paper led by Dr Stephanie Lewis, Clinical Lecturer at the IoPPN, we found that children with PTSD are eight times more likely to self-harm and 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than those without PTSD. In absolute terms, this means that about half of children with PTSD report self-harming and one in five report attempting suicide. Children with PTSD are also significantly more likely to have a violent offence record and not be in education, employment or training (NEET). This is alongside being at increased risk of co-occurring psychiatric diagnoses, including depression, generalised anxiety disorder, conduct problems, substance misuse or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


These findings highlight that childhood traumas are key modifiable risk factors for psychopathology in childhood and onwards – if we target the processes involved in responding to trauma, we may then be able to reduce the prevalence of mental health disorders and other negative health outcomes. As a result, childhood trauma is a major focus for research and clinical practice in mental health.

How to identify children most at risk of PTSD

We know that childhood trauma is associated with negative outcomes. But why are some children resilient in the face of trauma, while others develop complex psychopathologies like PTSD?

From our research, we have identified several key factors which influence the risk of developing PTSD in individual children exposed to trauma. Firstly, the quantity and nature of the trauma has an impact: children exposed to more traumatic events are at greater risk of developing persistent PTSD. In particular, those children who are exposed to ‘interpersonal traumas’ (such as physical or sexual assault) are more likely to develop PTSD than children exposed to ‘non-interpersonal traumas’ (such as accidents or natural disasters).

Secondly, individual differences in the child impact risk for PTSD: research suggests that girls are at greater risk of developing PTSD than boys following trauma. Different children also have different responses both during and after trauma: during the trauma, children who believed that they were about to die, and those who believe they are to blame for the occurrence of the traumatic event, may be at greater risk for developing PTSD. Children who try to cope with trauma by pushing memories away, withdrawing or distracting themselves may also be more likely to develop PTSD.

Interestingly, the memory of trauma also influences risk of developing mental health problems. Research has shown that individuals who were maltreated as children but do not have memories of these experiences have the same rates of mental health problems as individuals who were not maltreated individuals. This suggests that biases in memory, core beliefs, and decision-making influence risk for PTSD and other psychiatric responses to trauma.

Autobiographical memory may be a risk factor for trauma-related psychopathology. The subjective experience (‘s’) of child maltreatment (including memory) is more strongly associated with psychopathology than the objective experience (‘o’) measured through official court records. Graph from ‘Objective and subjective experiences of child maltreatment and their relationships with psychopathology’, Danese & Spatz Widom (2020).

Although these factors are more common in groups of children who develop PTSD than those who do not develop PTSD, much more research is still needed to make accurate risk prediction for individual children.

Dr Alan Meehan, Lecturer in Psychology at the IoPPN, and others in my team are working to develop accurate prediction models to identify which trauma-exposed children are at greatest risk of developing psychopathology. This will enable interventions from the earliest stages, even before symptoms occur, in children who have experienced trauma.

Identifying the symptoms of PTSD and what we can do to reduce them

Many children (around 50%) fail to recover from the symptoms of PTSD without treatment. Yet, despite the high prevalence of trauma in childhood, our research found that only a small fraction of children who have PTSD end up seeing a GP or mental health professionals. Around one in three sought help from a GP and only one in five, ultimately, were in contact with a mental health professional. This seems to be because children can struggle to report the symptoms or even the traumatic experiences themselves, and it’s difficult for parents and teachers to really understand when a child has developed PTSD.


As part of my work to reduce the negative impact of childhood trauma and PTSD, I co-lead the National & Specialist CAMHS Clinic for Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, where we deliver assessment and treatment to children and adolescents who experience severe and/or treatment-resistant PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression.

The Maudsley Hosptital

When we undertake assessments of PTSD in children who have been exposed to traumatic experiences, we look at a cluster of symptoms that are typical of developing PTSD. For example, asking:

  • Does the child relive traumatic experiences through distressing memories or nightmares?
  • Do they show avoidance of anything that reminds them of their trauma, such as context or people that reminds them of their trauma?
  • Do they express feelings of guilt, isolation or detachment?
  • Do they still feel under threat, as we can understand because they continue expressing irritability, impulsivity or difficulty concentrating, for example?

There are several evidence-based psychological treatments for PTSD in children that have been endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and that we use in the CAMHS Clinic. These include trauma-focused psychotherapies which target cognitive and behavioural factors that contribute to the reinforcement of PTSD. These therapies generally include psychoeducation to provide information to children and families about PTSD symptoms and the treatment rationale, coping skills training to better manage intense negative emotions, gradual exposure to trauma memories and reminders to address avoidance and build a coherent trauma narrative, and cognitive restructuring to address biased appraisals related to the trauma memory. Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Reader, Dr Patrick Smith, and others at IoPPN have developed one form of this evidence-based treatment.

There is also limited but growing evidence to indicate that eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves recalling traumatic events while performing tasks that generate bilateral sensory stimulation, may be beneficial for young people with PTSD.

Barriers to support and how to overcome them

We know it is impossible to implement interventions if child trauma and trauma-related psychopathology go undetected. As a result, our team is currently trying to map barriers to access healthcare to improve recognition of PTSD in children and adolescents.

One of the barriers to getting professional support for childhood PTSD are the symptoms and thought patterns themselves. Children may experience trauma-related avoidance, low motivation, hopelessness, distrust, shame, guilt, or fear of not being believed or being reprimanded by the perpetrators of the trauma. These factors may make them less likely to open up about the traumatic event or how they are feeling.

Another key barrier relates to the parents or caregivers’ response to their child’s trauma. For example, deliberate concealment of trauma by perpetrators or to avoid reprisal by perpetrators, fear of being blamed, fear of having their child taken by child protective services, or poor understanding and stigma around mental health. There may also be structural barriers, including lack of insurance, access to mental health care facilities or transportation.

Family can act as a great support system for children exposed to trauma. Children who received a family intervention which taught parents and caregivers about trauma symptoms, how to improve family communication, and coping skills to manage symptoms were significantly less likely to have a PTSD diagnosis three months after the intervention.

It is also important to remember that PTSD is not the only or even the most common mental health problem in children exposed to traumatic events, and parents and professionals need to also monitor symptoms of other anxiety disorders, depression and substance misuse in particular.

The future of mental health care and research: The King’s Maudsley Partnership for Children and Young People

Through his work in the Stress & Development Lab and National & Specialist CAMHS Clinic for Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression, Professor Andrea Danese is one of the many experts who are transforming our understanding and treatment of young people’s mental health as part of the King’s Maudsley Partnership for Children and Young People. The Partnership, which will have its home in the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People, is a unique collaboration between specialist clinicians from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and leading academics at King’s College London.

Together, King’s and The Trust host the largest group of mental health scientists and clinical academics in Europe. Through the Partnership, clinicians and researchers will collaborate even more closely to find new ways to predict, prevent and treat mental health disorders, such as childhood trauma and PTSD. This will enable us to translate research into practical treatments in the shortest possible time, and will benefit children locally, nationally and across the globe.

The Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

Online cognitive training not effective in reducing ADHD symptoms

Online cognitive training not effective in reducing ADHD symptoms

Online cognitive training not effective in reducing ADHD symptoms

A major review of research led by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London and the University of Southampton, on behalf of the European ADHD Guidelines Group (EAGG), found little to no evidence that computerised cognitive training brings benefits for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

a young girl holding a leaf

Computerised cognitive training is an online tool designed to improve cognitive processes such as short-term memory, attention and inhibitory control (the ability to control your attention, behaviour, thoughts and emotions). It has been proposed as a treatment option to help reduce symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention at the core of ADHD.

The review team conducted a meta-analysis of 36 randomised controlled trials (studies in which people are randomly assigned to different groups to test a specific intervention) investigating the effects of computerised cognitive training on outcomes in individuals with ADHD. The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry from the Nature Group, found that cognitive training did not lead to clinically meaningful reductions in overall ADHD symptoms or on specific hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms. It may, however, result in a small improvement in inattention in some settings.

“We conducted the largest, most comprehensive meta-analysis of randomised control trials to date to investigate the efficacy of computerised cognitive training in reducing ADHD symptoms. Our meta-analysis revealed little to no support for the use of this cognitive training as a stand-alone intervention for ADHD symptoms. Although small, short-term effects on inattention symptoms were found, they were likely of limited clinical importance. Overall, I think it’s now time to seek out new interventions targeting different processes.”

Dr Samuel Westwood

Lecturer in Psychology Education at King’s IoPPN and lead author of the paper

In most trials, participants completed the computerised cognitive training at home. Some completed the training at school, in a laboratory, a clinic/hospital or a mixed setting (switching between multiple). There were some improvements in a limited set of cognitive processes – particularly working memory (the ability to hold in mind and manipulate information over the short term) following specific working memory training. This may be of benefit to the subset of individuals with ADHD and who also experience working memory difficulties.

The authors explain that the findings do not support the use of computerised cognitive training in its current form as a stand-alone treatment for ADHD symptoms, and that new approaches that target different processes should be explored to develop effective interventions for ADHD.

Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at King’s IoPPN and joint senior author of the paper, said: “ADHD is a very heterogeneous condition in terms of what brain processes are implicated. It is likely that different sorts of interventions are required by different people. New and innovative approaches will be needed to move the field forward.”

Professor Samuele Cortese, Chair of the EAGG, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Southampton and joint senior author of the paper, said: “Rigorous meta-analytic evidence such as this one is crucial to inform the development of clinical guidelines, with the ultimate goal to provide the best evidence-based treatments to individuals with ADHD”.

Computerized cognitive training in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials with blinded and objective outcomes’ (Samuel Westwood, Valeria Parlatini, Katya Rubia, Samuele Cortese, Edmund Sonuga-Barke, European ADHD Guidelines Group) was published in Molecular Psychiatry (DOI:10.1038/s41380-023-02000-7).

For more information, please contact Amelia Remmington (IoPPN Communications and Engagement Officer).

Follow Us

For the latest updates and news, follow us on our social channels.

Skip to content