Hyperfocus is something in between a rumor and a symptom.
Among people with ADHD, it’s a commonly recognized phenomenon. Anecdotally, many people with ADHD can’t concentrate on some things but concentrate “too much” on others.
Part of the reason might be that the idea of having your attention glued to something with laser-like intensity doesn’t seem to line up with the idea of ADHD. People with ADHD, however, know that ADHD is more about not being able to regulate your attention than about never being able to pay attention to anything.
So when we find something engaging that gives our brain some kind of immediate reward, we sometimes just keep doing that thing, maybe long after other people would stop and go take care of other responsibilities. I’ve talked about ADHD as having magnetic attention, and the analogy here is that your attention gets stuck in a magnetic field so powerful you can’t pull away.
This can be good or bad. If the things that activate your hyperfocus are work projects, you’re probably not going to be complaining about that. If they’re things that are better done in moderation like playing video games, that might start to interfere with your life.
In a way, hyperfocus and inattention are two sides of the same symptom. Any time you’re not paying enough attention to one thing, there’s a good chance you’re paying too much attention to something else.
Some researchers are starting to take note that studying hyperfocus might provide some new insights into what ADHD is all about. For example, a group of researchers have just published a study showing that both medicated and unmedicated people with ADHD score higher on a questionnaire measuring hyperfocus than people without ADHD.
For people with ADHD, that finding might not do much more than confirm a suspicion. We pretty much already knew that ADHD hyperfocus was real, and we know some other things too – like how great it is when the stars align and our hyperfocus gets channeled into something actually productive.
Still, some actual evidence for the idea of hyperfocus is an important step forward and the study is a promising sign that maybe scientists will start looking at this under-researched topic. Hyperfocus is a real part of how ADHD shows up in our lives, so it would be great if some more researchers would, uh, focus on this topic.