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Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a narrow subject, separate from objective reality and onto subjective mental activities such as , daydreams, thinking, fiction, the [[imagination, etc.. It is a state that may occur during hypnosis, especially at theta rhythm brainwave levels.
Interpretations vary widely, and there is no consensus among professionals.
In common parlance, hyperfocus is sometimes referred to as "zoning out." When used to positive effect, it may also be accurately described as an exceptionally intense capacity to "zone in" on a specific thing, blocking out potential distractions at a greater level than is common for most people. When they "zone out" they can paint mental images in their mind, e.g. when reading they see what happens in the book. But if they are distracted it becomes hard to zone out again.
However, hyperfocus may also be regarded as a psychiatric diagnosis, as a distraction from reality, when it is considered as a symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder.
Additionally, some people say that hyperfocus is an important element of meditation.
The term hyperfocus is not in common use among academics, and seldom appears in peer-reviewed articles. However, related terms such as concentration, absorption, and "focused attention" are widely used, although these are typically considered antithetical to ADHD symptoms.
Pros and cons
A positive aspect of hyperfocus might be the ability to use detachment from ordinary mentality to create new approaches to familiar situations. It may also improve learning speed and comprehension.
On the other hand, it sometimes presents a challenge to common teaching and parenting techniques. Schools and parents generally expect obedience from children and reward them for it, but hyperfocused children do not always cooperate under these circumstances. This can be overcome with investments of time and effort by the teacher or parent, but it is not always possible to spend a lot of time focusing on one child in a typical classroom situation.
Hyperfocus is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) and no article using the term appears in PubMed. Psychiatry describes only the distraction aspect of hyperfocus, referring to ADHD as "inattentiveness and impulsiveness."
However, not all aspects of hyperfocus are negative, and while not addressing it specifically, professional psychiatry does not completely discount the existence of hyperfocus.
Many adults with ADHD attribute accomplishments in their lives to this mental ability. Besides hyperfocus, various special abilities have been suggested to occur in ADHD, including vigilance, response-readiness, enthusiasm, and flexibility. But current ADHD research does not recognize these characteristics. Greater creativity has also been suggested, but formal measures of this are no higher in children with ADHD than in control groups.
Nevertheless, psychiatric research suggests that there are several reasons for the persistence of the notion that people with ADHD have the ability to hyperfocus, such as the well-recognized comorbidity of ADHD with autism spectrum disorders, of which excessive focus is a part. Special abilities do occur in some people with ADHD, so it is easy to generalize from this minority to the whole ADHD group. ADHD is sometimes regarded as a disorder that is remarkably common (affecting 4–8% of school-age children), but primarily genetically determined.
As adult ADHD is a relatively new area of learning in comparison with the condition in children, many clinicians feel that hyperfocus is an aspect of adult ADHD which is not well understood and merits more thorough research.
From a medical viewpoint, hyperfocus is thought to result from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain's frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to "shift gears" to take up boring-but-necessary tasks.
- "3. A center of interest or activity... 4. Close or narrow attention; concentration" http://www.thefreedictionary.com/focus
- "1. Over; above; beyond... 2. Excessive; excessively..." http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hyper-
- "Hypnosis is sometimes described as a state wherein the electroencephalography (EEG) contains an increase in theta brainwaves (Hammond, 1998)." "Hammond, D. C. (1998). Hypnotic Induction & Suggestion. Chicago, American Society of Clinical Hypnosis." http://biorobotics.harvard.edu/research/sol.html
- Wareham, Jonathan, & Sonne, Thorkil (2008). "Harnessing the power of autism spectrum disorder". Innovations. 3, 11-27.
- Hartmann, Thom. (1998) Healing ADD: Simple Exercises That Will Change Your Daily Life. Underwood-Miller (1st ed.) ISBN 1-887424-37-7.
- Hartmann, Thom. (1993) ADD: A Different Perception.
- Goldstein and Barkley (1998) ADHD Report 6, 5.
- Jensen & Mrazek, (1997). Evolution and Revolution in Child Psychiatry: ADHD as a Disorder of Adaptation, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 36 (12), pp. 1672–1679.
- Shelley-Tremblay, J.F., and Rosen. L.A. (1996) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of Genetic Psychology. Dec96, Vol. 157 Issue 4, p443, 11p. AN 9704173357
- Funk et al. (1993). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, creativity, and the effects of methylphenidate, Pediatrics, 91 (4), pp. 816–819.
- ADDitude magazine (2008). 'ADHD Symptom: Hyperfocus'
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