Recently, some researchers published a study showing some ways the ADHD brain tends to be different than the non-ADHD brain.
This study has gotten a fair amount of press, relative to other ADHD studies anyway. I mean, if you’re an ADHD researcher, it’s not every day you get an article about your paper in Time.
So what’s the big deal? Plenty of other researchers have found various ways the ADHD brain tends to be different.
And the more people there are in a study, the more revealing the results tend to be – which is why when you publish a brain study with 3,000 participants, people tend to pay attention to your findings.
The findings in this case were that the ADHD brain tends to have several parts that are different in size from the corresponding parts of the “normal” brain, and that these differences aren’t a result of medication. Zooming out, that result piles on evidence for the idea that ADHD is a brain disorder with specific underlying biological causes.
That said, this recent study isn’t the only epically large study to shed light on ADHD.
Another kind of epic study ADHD researchers do is a meta-analysis, where they combine several previous studies and analyze the results.
For example, a meta-analysis published last summer involved 3,913 participants in total and found that people with ADHD tend to have higher delay discounting than people without the disorder – that is people with ADHD give a higher priority to shorter-term, more immediate rewards and value longer-term, more delayed rewards less on average. This emphasis on immediate rewards could help explain why people with ADHD sometimes struggle with delayed gratification, self-control and planning ahead.
Still another kind of epic ADHD study researchers can do is a twin study, where they survey a large pool of twins to learn more about the genetics underlying the disorder.
Take a twin study published in 2014 that involved 59,514 twins born between 1959 and 2001. The researchers used their data (and, yes, that’s a lot of data) to estimate how heritable ADHD is – that is, how much of ADHD risk comes down to what genes you have. They found that, overall, 72 percent of how likely a given adult is to be diagnosed with ADHD is determined purely by genetics.
As you can see, epically large studies can tell us a lot about ADHD. One takeaway here is that if you have ADHD, you have a stake in making sure more of these studies get done – and in making sure the government is serious about supporting the sciences because a lot of these studies only get done with the help of federal grants. After all, epically large ADHD studies play a big part in moving ADHD research forward and ultimately improving the lives of people with ADHD.
Image: Flickr/Matthew Purdy