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Research Links Brain Regions to Delay Aversion in ADHD

People with ADHD do not like to wait. I mean that literally – on a very basic level, we just don’t enjoy it.

Granted, no one enjoys waiting, but ADHDers seem to have brains that are especially calibrated to want to move on to the next thing immediately.

DelayedThis impatience shows up in our lives in various ways. We do things too fast. We seek out immediate stimulation and rewards even when it’s in our interests to delay gratification. Sometimes we don’t even wait for you to finish your sentence – hence why people with ADHD can be serial interrupters.

Psychologists refer to this tendency as delay aversion. Delay aversion is, quite literally, about being averse to experiencing delays – especially delays for rewards.

As it turns out, having high levels of delay aversion is linked to particular patterns of brain activity. If you don’t believe me, consider a study published this month by researchers from Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands.

In the study, researchers recruited teenagers with and without ADHD, then used MRI to observe their brain activity in different situations where they had to process delays as part of a reaction time test.

Unsurprisingly, the teenagers with ADHD reported being more delay averse those without the disorder. More interestingly, though, the researchers found signs of this increased delay aversion in the teenagers’ brain activity.

Specifically, when the teens with ADHD were processing delays, they tended to have more activity in parts of the brain including the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The researchers point out that these are “regions known to be implicated in the processing of aversive events.”

In other words, when we say people with ADHD don’t like to wait, it’s not just a way of speaking. For people with ADHD, waiting really tends to activate parts of their brain that are involved in processing unpleasant experiences, more so than it generally does for other people.

These results are too preliminary to lead to any new treatments in the near future. But they’re important as part of a bigger picture: they’re a piece of the large and growing body of evidence that symptoms people with ADHD experience correlate with observable differences in how their brains work.

So when it comes to having evidence that people with ADHD have symptoms that correlate with biological differences, well, the good news is that we don’t have to wait!

Image: Flickr/Craig Sunter

Research Links Brain Regions to Delay Aversion in ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Research Links Brain Regions to Delay Aversion in ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2019, from


Last updated: 13 Feb 2018
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