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“Good” Interrupting and ADHD

People with ADHD often have a habit of interrupting others in conversation, even when they know it’s inappropriate. Thank you, poor impulse control!

I’ve talked about interruptions as a part of ADHD before, as they’re one of several inadvertently rude things ADHDers can do that have negative social consequences.

In fact, this behavior is so common that not one but two of the DSM criteria for ADHD reference it: “often interrupts or intrudes on others” and “often blurts out an answer before a question has been asked.”

ConversationClearly, neither of those behaviors is likely to win you new friends. But I want to talk about a different side of interrupting, which is that sometimes conversational “interruptions” are good.

When two people are talking at the same time, it can be a sign that they’re both interested in the conversation, or that one of them is giving verbal support to what the other is saying. Psychologists sometimes call this type of interrupting cooperative overlap – which seems like a reasonable term because two speakers are indeed overlapping, but in a way that’s cooperative.

It turns out that people have different preferences in terms of how much “overlap” they think is appropriate in a conversation. Here’s a summary of some interesting research by Stanford doctoral student Katherine Hilton:

Hilton found that American English speakers have different conversational styles. She identified two distinct groups: high and low intensity speakers. High intensity speakers are generally uncomfortable with moments of silence in conversation and consider talking at the same time a sign of engagement. Low intensity speakers find simultaneous chatter to be rude and prefer people speak one at a time in conversation.

There was also evidence of gender biases in how people perceive interruptions, such that men judged women who interrupted more harshly.

So how does ADHD fit into this? I’m not sure any studies have looked at that question, but I have a few thoughts.

First, the point that cooperative overlap can be a “sign of engagement” is interesting because, in many instances, the problem that ADHDers have is not being engaged, and specifically not paying attention. Therefore, you could make the case that if your interlocutor who has ADHD is “interrupting” you, that’s a good thing because it’s a sign that they’re caught up in what you’re saying and not getting distracted.

I imagine that people with ADHD, like people without ADHD, span the full gamut in terms of how much “overlap” they like to have in their conversations. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if, on average, ADHDers are a little more likely to appreciate conversational overlap as an indicator that a conversation is engaging and holding everyone’s attention.

Obviously there are some types of interruptions that are unequivocally rude. But there seems to be a grey area of conversational overlap that could be interpreted as either supportive or annoying depending on personal preferences.

I’m curious to hear if you have any thoughts on this – how much conversational overlap do you like, and do you think your ADHD symptoms play a role in that preference?

Image: Flickr/byronv2

“Good” Interrupting and 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. (2020). “Good” Interrupting and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2020/01/good-interrupting-and-adhd/

 

Last updated: 21 Jan 2020
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