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.
Hyperfocus may bear a relationship to the concept of flow. In some circumstances, both flow and hyperfocus can be an aid to achievement, but in other circumstances or situations, the same focus and behavior could be a liability, distracting from the task at hand. However, unlike hyperfocus, "flow" is often described in more glowing terms, suggesting they are not two sides of the same condition under contrasting circumstance or intellect.
Hyperfocus may in some cases also be symptomatic of a psychiatric condition. In some cases, it is referred to as perseveration—an inability or impairment in switching tasks or activities ("set-shifting"), or desisting from mental or physical response repetition (gestures, words, thoughts) despite absence or cessation of a stimulus. It is distinguished from stereotypy (a highly repetitive idiosyncratic behaviour).
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. 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.
In ADHD, formulation and thinking can be slower than in neurotypical people (though this is not universal), and may be "long winded or tangential". These inattentive symptoms occur dually with what has been termed "hyperfocus" by the 2019 European Consensus Statement on Adult ADHD. 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."
Conditions unlikely to be confused with hyperfocus often involve repetition of thoughts or behaviors such as obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), trauma, and some cases of traumatic brain injury.
- Freed, Jeffrey; Parsons, Laurie (1998-10-21) (in en). Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684847931. https://books.google.com/?id=j2VvjIBjdE0C&pg=PA11&dq=right+brain+dominance+hyperfocus#v=onepage&q=right%20brain%20dominance%20hyperfocus&f=false.
- Pfabigan, Daniela M.; Tran, Ulrich S. (2015-08-21) (in en). Behavioral and Physiological Bases of Attentional Biases: Paradigms, Participants, and Stimuli. Frontiers Media SA. ISBN 9782889196401. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317101107.
- White, Holly A.; Shah, Priti (2006-04-01). "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.
- Kooij, J. J. S.; Bijlenga, D.; Salerno, L.; Jaeschke, R.; Bitter, I.; Balázs, J.; Thome, J.; Dom, G. et al. (2019-02-01). "Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD". European Psychiatry 56: 14–34. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.11.001. ISSN 0924-9338. PMID 30453134.
- 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, https://books.google.com/books?id=NQrtt-peg5AC&pg=PA50#v=onepage&q&f=false, "…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."
- Priory psychiatric glossary
- Winn, Philip, ed. (2001), "Perseveration", Dictionary of Biological Psychology, Taylor & Francis, p. 595, ISBN 9780415136068, https://books.google.com/books?id=UbL2MZ9xI7oC&pg=PA595#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Helm-Estabrooks N. The problem of perseveration. Semin Speech Lang. 2004;25(4):289–90. doi:10.1055/s-2004-837241. PMID 15599818.
- Grinnell, Renée (2008). "Perseveration". http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2008/perseveration/.
- Dictionary.com definition
- Goodin, Kate. "Famous People with ADHD". Meredith Corporation. http://www.parenting.com/gallery/famous-people-with-add-or-adhd?page=16. Retrieved 2013-08-22. "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.’"
- 2012 Burnett Lecture Video, Part 1 of 3, Keynote Speaker: Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. by UNCCHLearningCenter, retrieved Aug 2013
- 2012 Burnett Lecture, Video, Part 2 of 3, ADHD, Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning Theory, by UNCCHLearningCenter
- 2012 Burnett Lecture Video, Part 3 of 3, Q & A Dr. Russell Barkley by UNCCHLearningCenter - Streamed live on Nov 1, 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
- Brasic, James Robert (9 July 2012). "Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Differential Diagnoses". http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1826591-differential.
- Hartmann, T. (1998). Healing ADD: Simple Exercises That Will Change Your Daily Life (1st ed.). Underwood-Miller. ISBN 1-887424-37-7. https://archive.org/details/healingaddsimple00hart_0.
- Hartmann, T. (1997). Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception (2nd ed.). Underwood. ISBN 978-1887424141.
- Goldstein, S.; Barkley, R. A. (1998). "ADHD, hunting and evolution: "Just So" stories (commentary)". ADHD Report 6 (5): 1–4.
- Shelley-Tremblay, J. F.; Rosén, L. A. (1996). "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: An Evolutionary Perspective". The Journal of Genetic Psychology 157 (4): 443–453. doi:10.1080/00221325.1996.9914877. PMID 8955426.
- Funk, J. B.; Chessare, J. B.; Weaver, M. T.; Exley, A. R. (1993). "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, creativity, and the effects of methylphenidate". Pediatrics 91 (4): 816–819. PMID 8464673.
- Flippin, R. (2008). "ADHD Symptom: Hyperfocus". ADDitude magazine. http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/612.html.