Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus is generally defined as a deep and consuming state of fixation thought to result from irregularly low baseline levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine [2, 3]. A deficiency of dopamine causes difficulty redirecting attention from entertaining or interesting tasks to more necessary, tedious ones [2]. In this state, individuals have reported being aware of the world outside of what they are fixated on, but feel unable to turn their attention away [4]. Psychiatric literature does not have a clear operational definition of hyperfocus [1], but Ashinoff & Abu-Akel (2021) describe four general features consistently reported in research:

  1. It is “characterized by an intense state of concentration/focus”
  2. “When engaged in hyperfocus, unrelated external stimuli do not appear to be consciously perceived; sometimes reported as a diminished perception of the environment”
  3. “To engage in hyperfocus, the task has to be fun or interesting”
  4. “During a hyperfocus state, task performance improves”. 

Hyperfocus is commonly reported by people with ADHD as a chronic state, but occurs among the neurotypical population as well, just with less frequency [4]. Individuals with ADHD tend to become deeply immersed in an activity they enjoy to the point of ignoring everything around them [3]. This sometimes causes problems when they are unable to turn their attention towards their responsibilities [3]. People with ADHD may even go out of their way to pursue activities that induce this state of hyperfocus because they crave the positive feeling of an influx of dopamine [4]. Experiencing states of hyperfocus is not on its own a problematic tendency, but when it occurs so frequently to the point that it becomes chronic, it causes a functional impairment as one finds themselves unable to regulate their attention [4]. 

Patients who take stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD, especially methylphenidate,  have reported hyperfocus as a side effect [4]. In research, however, there was no reported difference in the state of hyperfocus itself between individuals who did and did not take stimulants [4]. The relationship between psycho-stimulants and hyperfocus has not been thoroughly investigated in research and exists mostly in subjective reports, but it is commonly described by people with ADHD outside of research as their own personal experience. 

Experts espouse a number of ways to accomplish daily tasks even with a tendency to hyperfocus. Research suggests that harnessing this intense focus is a productive way to regulate attention - finding ways to make necessary tasks interesting is likely to induce this influx of dopamine. this may look like pursuing a career that engages your passions, listening to engaging music while doing household tasks, or doing school projects on subjects you find fascinating [3]. Adults with ADHD may benefit from setting up external cues to disengage and redirect their attention, such as having a friend or family member interrupt at certain times to break focus [3]. Learning how to control a tendency to hyperfocus can turn it from a dysfunction or liability into a powerful advantage, allowing an intense fixation on necessary tasks like work or school. 


Sources:


[1] Ashinoff, Brandon K. & Abu-Akel, Ahmad. (2021). “Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention.” Psychological Research, 85(1-19). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7851038/#:~:text=%E2%80%9C%20'Hyperfocusing'%20is%20defined%20as,interests%20(Conner%2C%201994)


[2] Flippin, Royce. 11 July 2022. “Hyperfocus: The ADHD Phenomenon of Intense Fixation.” ADDitude. 

https://www.additudemag.com/understanding-adhd-hyperfocus/ 


[3] Porter, Eloise. 19 February 2019. “ADHD and Hyperfocus.” Healthline

https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-symptoms-hyperfocus 


[4] Tugba Ozel-Kizil, Erguvan, et al. 19 September, 2016. “Hyperfocusing as a dimension of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Research in Developmental Disabilities, 59. pp. 351 - 358. 

https://dspace.ankara.edu.tr/xmlui/bitstream/handle/20.500.12575/41840/A33hyperfocusing.pdf?sequence=1 


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