Study Shows Boring Tasks Difficult for Adults with ADHD

Health Writer

Adults with ADHD have long stated they have a difficult time paying attention to and completing boring tasks. One recent study may have backed up that claim with scientific data.

The study was completed at the National Institute on Drug Abuse by Nora D. Volkow M.D. and her colleagues. A preliminary report of the study was reported in the September 2, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study compared two group of adults, the first group was comprised of 53 adults diagnosed with ADHD but not receiving treatment. The second group included 44 adults without ADHD.

According to the report, inattention may result, at least in part, from the understimulation of reward and motivation centers in the brain. Brain scans completed showed the adults with ADHD had lower dopamine receptor levels in areas of the brain controlling rewards. The researchers believe this may help explain adults with ADHD have more problems paying attention to tasks that are not interesting or are boring and repetitive. These types of tasks do not offer any internal rewards to help adults improve their performance.

Dopamine levels in the brain may be an indicator of the ability to pay attention. It is thought that dopamine helps to predict the reward from any given task. Tasks that increase our dopamine levels are those that we want to repeat, those we receive some reward from.

The study found inattention to be most markedly impacted, at least in this portion of the brain. Impulsivity and hyperactivity were not seen as interfering with completing boring tasks. This could be because impulsive and hyperactivity scores were lower at the beginning of the study or because dopamine levels in a different area of the brain impact these symptoms.

Researchers believe the results of this study may help in later research and treatment for other problems adults with ADHD experience, especially in problems with sleep, difficulty managing stress and obesity.

Only adults were included in the study, however, researchers believe the same results would be seen in children and adolescents.

Volkow ND, et al "Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD: Clinical Implications" JAMA 2009; 302: 1084-91.