A study published in Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology has found an interesting new benefit that may come with ADHD meds: increased empathy.
In the study, researchers followed 52 children and teens between the ages of 8 and 18 as they started treatment with methylphenidate, an ADHD medication. When the participants were surveyed after 12 weeks of medication, they ended up scoring higher on a test of empathy than they had before treatment – and this increase in empathy correlated with decreases in other ADHD symptoms.
The study didn’t look at whether methylphenidate would have similar effects for adults, but it you think about it, it makes sense that treatment could make people with ADHD more inclined to take into account the thoughts and feelings of others.
After all, interpersonal relationships are one of the main areas of life where ADHD symptoms can cause problems. Inattention can mean that people with ADHD miss subtle indications of what’s going on in other people’s minds, and impulsivity can mean that ADHDers talk or act without taking adequate time to consider others’ perspectives.
Generally, people with ADHD have trouble with all kinds of self-regulation – you know, that whole “executive functioning” thing. The result is that ADHDers don’t always calibrate what they say or do with reference to what others are feeling. To put it another way: we don’t always think through the consequences of our actions, and that includes the consequences our actions have for other people.
Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that treating underlying ADHD symptoms can also lead to gains in empathy. If inattention, impulsivity and impaired executive functioning make people with ADHD less prone to think things over from others’ perspectives, then treating these symptoms can only help!
Of course, none of this is to say that ADHDers are all horrible people. It’s just that if you do have ADHD, there’s a good chance you’re a little worse at taking other people’s feelings into consideration than you would be if you didn’t have the disorder, all else being equal.. Most people with ADHD can probably attest that ADHD symptoms really do make it easier to miss out on social cues or get yourself into trouble by talking without thinking. What the new study tells us, though, is that when it comes to the effects ADHD symptoms have on interpersonal relationships, treatment can help.