What Is Hyperfocus in ADHD?
Have you heard of “hyperfocus” or hyperconcentration? The neurodivergent population and, specifically, those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently experience this process. Hyperfocus in ADHD consists of paying an intense and sustained level of attention to a specific task over time, so much so that they’re not distracted for a second.
How can this be? Isn’t those with this neurodevelopmental condition supposed to present a clear limitation when it comes to concentrating on any activity? Well, actually, what ADHD shows is a problem in the regulation of attention and not a limitation of it. This means that every time they’re immersed in something they like, their ability to focus is extraordinary.
We’ll explain what this particular brain mechanism is due to in the following article.
Many parents often complain that their children with ADHD can spend hours playing video games, which demonstrates a high level of attention that, however, in other tasks, is almost non-existent.
What is hyperfocus?
Hyperfocus is a characteristic of people with ADHD or autism that allows them to intensely focus their attention on a certain activity. The first thing you should know is that bringing this cognitive ability to light, in a certain way, breaks the stigma toward those who are within the spectrum of neurodivergence.
A work published in Psychological Research highlights that it’s a particularity little studied by science. What we do know is that, although it’s frequent among the aforementioned clinical populations, some neurotypicals (people with typical neurological patterns) can also experience it. Let’s find out more information below.
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How does hyperfocus manifest itself?
There’s a book that’s an important resource for people with ADHD. This is Adventures in Fast Forward: Life, Love, and Work for the ADD Adult, by Kathleen G. Nadeu. In its pages, she describes the real case of a woman who was so focused on writing a job that she didn’t realize that her house was on fire and that the firefighters were trying to save her.
The level of cognitive absorption that these people reach is so high that the entire context that surrounds them ceases to exist. It could be said that it’s an even more intense state than that mental process that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as flow or optimal experience.
Below, we’ll detail what the main characteristics of hyperfocus in ADHD are:
- It’s a selective process. This means that it appears only in tasks or activities that are motivating for the person.
- Isolation. This state of intense concentration separates you completely from your surroundings to the point that you may suffer accidents.
- An imaginative mind. This type of concentration also occurs with intense and elaborate imaginative processes, which completely separates the person from immediate reality.
- The ability to visualize. People with ADHD can visualize tasks, activities, and concepts in a clear and enriching way, provided that said subject is motivating for them.
- Social interaction. Hyperfocus can also appear while interacting with other people. Maintaining interesting conversations, for example, is rewarding and comes with great attention.
- Creativity. Indeed, as a publication in the Personality and Individual Differences journal indicates, a characteristic that defines people with ADHD is their creative power, something that could be mediated by this factor.
- Hyperfocus and mental flexibility. This cognitive approach is efficient and can make it easier for the person to solve complex problems. In addition, it facilitates flexibility to reason with new perspectives when faced with the same problem.
- Reduced impulsivity. If there’s one known aspect that we associate with ADHD, it’s the inability to regulate impulses. Now, when the person is immersed in a task that they like, this dimension is completely regulated.
The biggest problem people with hyperfocus have is poor time management. Unable to divert attention from the task that motivates them, they may neglect other important activities.
Who usually demonstrates the ability to hyperfocus?
An investigation published in Research in Developmental Disabilities provides us with information in this regard. It’s interesting to know that, although hyperfocus appears to a greater degree in people with ADHD, it’s not exclusive to this sector of the population. In fact, it’s suggested that it can occur in the following cases:
- Patients with schizophrenia
- People without neurodivergence
- Some men and women with autism
Positive and Negative Effects of Hyperfocus
Hyperfocus is often referred to as an exceptional superpower that people with ADHD have. It’s evident that this cognitive particularity acts as an asset capable of offering them great advantages, as long as they’re immersed in tasks that motivate and please them, their performance will be optimal and even exceptional.
Now, as you can imagine, throughout our academic and working lives, we don’t always expose ourselves to activities that we enjoy. This can make someone with ADHD excel in some areas and feel ineffective in others. We’ll explain below the advantages and limitations of this very particular cognitive competence.
When a person develops in the area of study or work that is of interest to them, the results are too positive. Your performance can be exceptional and you can become someone with great talent. In this sense, the following points stand out:
- Affective relationships are lived with great intensity, especially at the beginning.
- Thanks to the results obtained with hyperconcentration, self-esteem rises.
- Individuals demonstrate great competencies in creativity and innovation in those areas that are of interest to them.
A study published by Frontiers in Psychiatry places interest in a particular aspect. Hyperfocus can sometimes lead to addiction to the Internet and the use of screens. The level of stimulation generated by technology and social networks can cause all your attention to be hijacked by this type of support. It is a reality that is worth taking into account.
Likewise, we can also list other associated drawbacks below:
- The hyper-focused mind loses track of time.
- Feeling absorbed by certain tasks, they may neglect other obligations.
- They may suffer imbalances in their lifestyles. An example of this is not sleeping as a result of spending too many hours in an activity.
- Situations of self-criticism and suffering often appear. They wonder why they can’t focus on other, less interesting areas just as well.
Can excessive attention be regulated to your benefit?
Not everyone knows that people with ADHD deal with such opposite extremes when it comes to attention. At times, they’re unable to maintain it and, at others, they become so absorbed that they isolate themselves from their reality. If you identify with this condition or if someone close to you experiences it, it’ll be helpful for you to take into account the following aspects to better manage this peculiarity:
- Orient your professional life toward what you’re passionate about. Ideally, you should be clear about what you like and what motivates you to focus on those areas in which to develop. This is how you’ll manage to feel fulfilled as a person.
- Identify those areas that focus your attention. It’s important to know what activities your brain focuses on most intensely. Make sure they’re healthy stimuli and regulate those that may be dysfunctional (such as excessive use of your cell phone).
- Set time limits. If you present this characteristic, you need to regulate it with time limits, either through alarms or other methods. For example, if you’re passionate about reading, try not to fill the whole night with this task to the point that you don’t get any rest. Establish beforehand the amount of time that you’ll dedicate to this task and stop when the notification appears on your phone.
You may be interested in: The Link Between ADHD and Video Games
Neurodivergence and the need to make its particularities visible
In our society, there are many people with quite diverse forms of neurological functioning. ADHD and autism are two small examples of this great group. The most decisive thing in these cases is to break stigmas and, to achieve this, there’s nothing better than psychological education, which provides interesting information about these conditions.
Having this type of disorder presents certain advantages and certain disadvantages that can be overcome. With support and resources, it’s possible to go far and demonstrate the talent that each person carries within. Hyperfocus is a characteristic that, when well managed, can allow you to achieve great things.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Ashinoff, B. K., & Abu-Akel, A. (2021). Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research, 85(1), 1–19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7851038/
- Groen, Y., Priegnitz, U., Fuermaier, A. B. M., Tucha, L., Tucha, O., Aschenbrenner, S., Weisbrod, M., & Garcia Pimenta, M. (2020). Testing the relation between ADHD and hyperfocus experiences. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 107, 103789. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33126147/
- Ishii, S., Takagi, S., Kobayashi, N., Jitoku, D., Sugihara, G., & Takahashi, H. (2023). Hyperfocus symptom and internet addiction in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder trait. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 14, 1127777. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37009127/
- Nadeu, K. G. (1996). Adventures In Fast Forward: Life, Love, and Work for the ADD Adult. Brunner-Routledge.
- White, H. A., & Shah, P. (2006). Uninhibited imaginations: Creativity in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(6), 1121–1131. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886905003764?via%3Dihub