Perceived Mental Effort and ADHD

CADDAC National Director

I just found out about a brand new area of research on ADHD that I find fascinating. For many years I have wondered why those, including family members, with ADHD express extreme reluctance and sometimes downright refusal to tackle certain tasks that others find simple.

I was alerted about a recent study looking at Differences in Perceived Mental  Effort Required and Discomfort during a Working Memory Task between Individuals At-risk And Not  by one of our members who was confused by the term “at-risk for ADHD”.  So, I decided to go directly to the source and contacted Maggie Toplak, one of the researchers, who I happen to know. Dr. Toplak shared my questions with her co-researcher on this study, Dr. John Eastwood.

Here is the information that was provided by Dr. Eastwood.

What does the term “at-risk for ADHD” mean?

We used the Adult ADHD Self Report Scale (ASRS), which is a symptom checklist based on DSM diagnostic criteria. It is used as a screening tool to identify who would likely meet criteria for ADHD. However, it is not a full, formal assessment. Thus, we labelled those who were identified on this screen as likely having ADHD as being "at risk".

What is this study looking at?

There is little work on ADHD and the experience of mental effort. Most models assume that those with ADHD avoid effortful tasks because they either have diminished capacity to complete effortful tasks and/or because they lack motivation to complete effortful tasks.

What are the findings to-date?

Our work is hinting - much more still needs to be done - at the possibility that individuals with ADHD experience effortful tasks as being more distressing and uncomfortable than those without ADHD. Sort of like a strong negative emotional response...even in situations where they are doing as well as those without ADHD. The idea is that the same situation is experienced differently. So it may be less about cognitive ability and motivation and more about emotion. The same mental task gives rise to different emotions for those with and without ADHD. If so, this means we need interventions that focus on reducing the emotional reaction to effortful tasks rather than simply interventions that work on increasing executive functioning skills (to improve ability on tasks and ability to self-regulate motivation).

Access information on another study in this area HERE


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