ADHD Videos

ADHD Inattention, Explained

Focus is not a matter of willpower. It’s a function of a weak (or strong) connections in the brain’s neural networks.

Brain networks — the way the different regions of the brain communicate — work differently for people with ADHD. That impacts inattention, impulsivity, and emotional regulation.

Inattention, a primary symptom of ADHD, may bring a shortage of focus — or an abundance. Here, learn what activates the ADHD brain’s “automatic attention capture system,” and why it’s so hard to ignore distraction and refocus.

Inattention, Explained

Inattention, a primary symptom of ADHD, may bring a shortage of focus – or an abundance.

An inattentive child may struggle to focus on her teacher when squirrels are playing outside.

Or, an inattentive child may be so hyperfocused on a video game that the outside world fades away.

ADHD makes it hard to pay attention on demand…and to break focus on something interesting.

Why? Welcome and unwelcome distractions activate the brain’s “automatic attention capture system,” which reflexively responds to sights and sounds.

The “automatic attention capture system” then sends a signal to the parietal lobe. That’s the section of the brain responsible for tracking long term goals and obligations.

But in ADHD brains, the connections between neural networks are underdeveloped and weak, which means…

  • The signal to ignore distraction and refocus is lost.
  • The person with ADHD keeps playing or zoning out with no reminder to reset.

“It’s as if [the sections of the brain] are not talking to each other,” says Joel Nigg, Ph.D. “Because the front of the brain can’t capture attention, the behavior is not suppressed.”

In other words, focus is not a matter of willpower or motivation. Focus is a function of the axonal fibers connecting different regions of your brain, and that is complex science.

[Your Free In-Depth Guide to Inattentive ADHD]

Joel Nigg, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.