11 January 2011

ADHD and the Daydreaming Switch

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome (ADHD) is a condition that appears to prevent people from concentrating on any one thing for more than a few moments at a time. It is most prevalent in children and often comes to light when they begin school.

For a long time the condition was considered to be psychological but now researchers at the University of Nottingham believe that they have found a physiological reason for the condition.

The research focused on the default mode network (DMN) that allows our brains to daydream when we are not focused on a particular task. This default setting in the brain is what enables us to relax and is also thought to be associated with the process of dreaming and in converting short-term memories into long-term memories. For example, it is this default process that allows ideas to “pop into your head” when you are thinking of nothing in particular.

In the case of children with ADHD the researchers found that they were not able to switch off the daydreaming default mode, and that this was therefore the reason why they found it far harder to concentrate.

Dr Martin Batty, co-author of the study, said: "Using brain imaging, we have been able to see inside the children's heads and observe what it is about ADHD that is stopping them concentrating."

"Most people are able to control their 'daydreaming' state and focus on the task at hand. This is not the case with children with ADHD. If a task is not sufficiently interesting, they cannot switch off their background brain activity and they are easily distracted. Making a task more interesting, or providing methylphenidate (otherwise known as Ritalin), turns down the volume and allows them to concentrate."

The findings are published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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