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Monotropic and polytropic learning
Monotropic (hyperfocus) and polytropic learning

Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a subject, topic, or task. In some individuals, various subjects or topics may also include daydreams, concepts, fiction, the imagination, and other objects of the mind. Hyperfocus on a certain subject can cause side-tracking away from assigned or important tasks.

Psychiatrically, it is considered to be a trait of ADHD together with inattention, and it has been proposed as a trait of other conditions, such as schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).[1][2]

One proposed factor in hyperfocus as a symptom involves the psychological theory of brain lateralization, wherein one hemisphere of the brain specializes in some neural functions and cognitive processes over others. Those who have a tendency to hyperfocus, such as those with ADHD, may experience a form of "pseudoneglect" where attention is dominant on one side of the brain, leading to preferential attention in some neural connections and processes over others overall.[3][4] While this idea is under study, it is not yet empirically proven.[5][6][7]

Hyperfocus may bear a relationship to the concept of flow.[2] In some circumstances, both flow and hyperfocus can be an aid to achievement, but in other circumstances, the same focus and behavior could be a liability, distracting from the task at hand. However, unlike hyperfocus, "flow" is often described in more positive terms, suggesting they are not two sides of the same condition under contrasting circumstance or intellect.[7]

Psychiatric symptom[edit]

Hyperfocus may in some cases also be symptomatic of a psychiatric condition. In some cases, it is referred to as perseveration[2]—an inability or impairment in switching tasks or activities ("set-shifting"),[8] or desisting from mental or physical response repetition (gestures, words, thoughts) despite absence or cessation of a stimulus.[9][10][11][12] It is distinguished from stereotypy (a highly repetitive idiosyncratic behaviour).[1]

Conditions associated with hyperfocus or perseveration include neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly those considered to be on the autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In ADHD, it may be a coping mechanism or a symptom of emotional self-regulation. So called "twice exceptional" people, with high intellect and learning disabilities, may have either or both of hyperfocus and perseverative behaviours.[2][1] They are often mimicked by similar conditions involving executive dysfunction or emotional dysregulation, and lack of diagnosis and treatment may lead to further co-morbidity.[1]


In ADHD, formulation and thinking can be slower than in neurotypical people (though this is not universal), and may be "long-winded or tangential".[1][13] These inattentive symptoms occur dually with what has been termed "hyperfocus" by the 2019 Updated European Consensus Statement on Adult ADHD.[14] The over-concentration or hyperfocus often occurs if the person finds something "very interesting and/or provide(s) instant gratification, such as computer games or online chatting. For such activities, concentration may last for hours on end, in a very focused manner."[1]

ADHD is a difficulty in directing one's attention (an executive function of the frontal lobe), not a lack of attention.[15][16][17]

Conditions unlikely to be confused with hyperfocus often involve repetition of thoughts or behaviors such as obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), trauma,[18] and some cases of traumatic brain injury.[8]


Two major symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include repetitive sounds or movements and fixation on various things including topics and activities.[19] Hyperfocus in the context of ASD has also been referred to as the inability to redirect thoughts or tasks as the situation changes (cognitive flexibility).[20]

One suggested explanation for hyperfocus in those with ASD is that the activity they are hyperfocused on is predictable. Aversion to unpredictable situations is a characteristic of ASD,[21] while focusing on something predictable, they will have trouble changing to a task that is unpredictable.[19]


Schizophrenia is a mental condition characterized by a disconnect from reality, including grandiose delusions, disorganized thinking, and abnormal social behavior.[22] Recently, hyperfocus has come into attention as a part of the cognitive symptoms associated with the disorder. In this use, hyperfocus is an intense focus on processing the information in front of them. This hypothesis suggests that hyperfocus is the reason those afflicted with schizophrenia experience difficulty spreading their attention across multiple things.[23]


Some research, such as that of Naomi Sadeh and Edelyn Verona, published in Neuropsychology in 2008,[24] has suggested that psychopaths are hyperfocused on obtaining a reward and as a result their ability to use contextual cues, punishment or contextual information for adjusting their behaviour may be impaired. Moreover, they develop tunnel vision blocking out any peripheral stimulation (such as fear of achieving the goal).[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kooij, J. J. S.; Bijlenga, D.; Salerno, L.; Jaeschke, R.; Bitter, I.; Balázs, J.; Thome, J.; Dom, G.; Kasper, S. (1 February 2019). "Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD". European Psychiatry. 56: 14–34. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.11.001. hdl:10651/51910. ISSN 0924-9338. PMID 30453134.
  2. ^ a b c d Webb, James T.; Amend, Edward R.; Webb, Nadia E.; Goerss, Jean; Beljan, Paul; Olenchak, F. Richard (2005), Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, and Other Disorders, Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., pp. 50–51, ISBN 9780910707640, …there are no empirical data that support hyperfocus as an aspect of ADD/ADHD. In gifted children without ADD/ADHD, this rapt and productive attention state is described by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as 'flow.' … What has been coined 'hyperfocus' in persons with ADD/ADHD seems to be a less medical-sounding description of perseveration. Thus the apparent ability to concentrate in certain limited situations does not exclude the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD.
  3. ^ Zou, Hongliang; Yang, Jian (6 December 2018). "Exploring the Brain Lateralization in ADHD Based on Variability of Resting-State fMRI Signal". Journal of Attention Disorders. 25 (2): 258–264. doi:10.1177/1087054718816170. PMID 30520697 – via Sage Publications.
  4. ^ Helfer, Bartosz; Maltezos, Stefanos; Liddle, Elizabeth; Kuntsi, Jonna; Asherson, Philip (29 June 2020). "Lateralization of attention in adults with ADHD: Evidence of pseudoneglect". European Psychiatry: The Journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists. 63 (1): e68. doi:10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.68. ISSN 1778-3585. PMC 7443776. PMID 32594941.
  5. ^ Freed, Jeffrey; Parsons, Laurie (21 October 1998). Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684847931.
  6. ^ Pfabigan, Daniela M.; Tran, Ulrich S. (21 August 2015). Behavioral and Physiological Bases of Attentional Biases: Paradigms, Participants, and Stimuli. Frontiers Media SA. ISBN 9782889196401.
  7. ^ a b White, Holly A.; Shah, Priti (1 April 2006). "Uninhibited imaginations: Creativity in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder". Personality and Individual Differences. 40 (6): 1121–1131. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.11.007. ISSN 0191-8869.
  8. ^ a b Priory, "Psychiatric glossary".
  9. ^ Winn, Philip, ed. (2001), "Perseveration", Dictionary of Biological Psychology, Taylor & Francis, p. 595, ISBN 9780415136068
  10. ^ Helm-Estabrooks N (2004). "The problem of perseveration". Semin Speech Lang. 25 (4): 289–90. doi:10.1055/s-2004-837241. PMID 15599818.
  11. ^ Grinnell, Renée (2008). "Perseveration". Psych Central. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
  12. ^ Dictionary.com definition
  13. ^ Goodin, Kate. "Famous People with ADHD". Parenting. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 22 August 2013. David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue Airways … reported in an interview with ADDitude magazine his ADHD prevents him from being detail-oriented and completing doing day-to-day tasks, saying, 'I have an easier time planning a 20-aircraft fleet than I do paying the light bill.'
  14. ^ Kooij, J. J. S.; Bijlenga, D.; Salerno, L.; Jaeschke, R.; Bitter, I.; Balázs, J.; Thome, J.; Dom, G.; Kasper, S.; Filipe, C. Nunes; Stes, S.; Mohr, P.; Leppämäki, S.; Casas, M.; Bobes, J. (2019). "Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD". European Psychiatry. 56 (1): 14–34. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.11.001. hdl:10651/51910. ISSN 0924-9338. Patients may also over-concentrate or 'hyperfocus'. This phenomenon most commonly occurs when engaged in activities that the patient finds very interesting and/or provide instant gratification, such as computer games or online chatting. For such activities, concentration may last for hours on end, in a very focused manner.
  15. ^ 2012 Burnett Lecture Video, Part 1 of 3, Keynote Speaker: Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. by UNCCHLearningCenter, retrieved Aug 2013
  16. ^ 2012 Burnett Lecture, Video, Part 2 of 3, ADHD, Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning Theory, by UNCCHLearningCenter
  17. ^ 2012 Burnett Lecture Video, Part 3 of 3, Q & A Dr. Russell Barkley by UNCCHLearningCenter - Streamed live on 1 November 2012 Sponsored by the Academic Success Program for Students with LD and ADHD — a UNC-Chapel Hill Learning Center Program in the College of Arts and Sciences — and the UNC General Alumni
  18. ^ Brasic, James Robert (9 July 2012). "Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Differential Diagnoses". Medscape Reference.
  19. ^ a b Ashinoff, Brandon K.; Abu-Akel, Ahmad (2021). "Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention". Psychological Research. 85 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8 (inactive 3 May 2024). ISSN 0340-0727. PMC 7851038. PMID 31541305.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of May 2024 (link)
  20. ^ Geurts, Hilde M.; Corbett, Blythe; Solomon, Marjorie (1 February 2009). "The paradox of cognitive flexibility in autism". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 13 (2): 74–82. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.11.006. ISSN 1364-6613. PMC 5538880. PMID 19138551.
  21. ^ "Autism spectrum disorder - Symptoms and causes". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  22. ^ "Schizophrenia - Symptoms and causes". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 12 March 2022.
  23. ^ Luck, Steven J; Hahn, Britta; Leonard, Carly J; Gold, James M (11 September 2019). "The Hyperfocusing Hypothesis: A New Account of Cognitive Dysfunction in Schizophrenia". Schizophrenia Bulletin. 45 (5): 991–1000. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbz063. ISSN 0586-7614. PMC 6737469. PMID 31317191.
  24. ^ Sadeh, Naomi; Verona, Edelyn (2008). "Psychopathic personality traits associated with abnormal selective attention and impaired cognitive control". Neuropsychology. 22 (5): 669–680. doi:10.1037/a0012692. ISSN 1931-1559. PMC 2538613. PMID 18763886.
  25. ^ Dotterer, Hailey L.; Hyde, Luke W.; Shaw, Daniel S.; Rodgers, Emma L.; Forbes, Erika E.; Beltz, Adriene M. (2020). "Connections that characterize callousness: Affective features of psychopathy are associated with personalized patterns of resting-state network connectivity". NeuroImage. Clinical. 28: 102402. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102402. ISSN 2213-1582. PMC 7479442. PMID 32891038.
  26. ^ Worthington, Rachel; Wheeler, Suzanne (1 January 2023). "Hyperfocus and offending behaviour: a systematic review". The Journal of Forensic Practice. 25 (3): 185–200. doi:10.1108/JFP-01-2022-0005. ISSN 2050-8794.

Further reading[edit]