Researchers have found a noticeable upswing in individuals exhibiting ADHD symptoms since the onset of the pandemic. Oftentimes, though, ADHD-like traits such as “distractibility” can be nebulous and non-specific. In a recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, Amisha Jha, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami, broke down exactly how attention functions in human beings, describing three systems which work in concert and enable us to focus—and how people living with ADHD experience these systems differently.
The first is analogous to a flashlight, when our attention is singular and focused on one thing. “Literally like a flashlight in a darkened space, you know you value that thing, wherever it points, it gives you that privileged information. The good thing about the flashlight is you can use it wilfully, you can point it.”
The second system, Jha says, is more akin to a floodlight; an awareness of one’s entire surroundings. “It’s broad, receptive, no privileging of any information, it allows whatever comes up to come up.”
The third system is executive control, which Jha describes as a “manager” that juggles different information based on current goals, and can help to direct or interpret the sensory input from the flashlight and floodlight systems.
“People differ along their set points of all three of these systems,” she explains. “You’re either hyper-focused and can’t get that flashlight off, or you’re hyper-vigilant, you can’t can’t stop seeing everything as requiring this broad, receptive, almost anxiety-provoking level of present moment awareness, or you just can’t get the balls in the air, there’s a problem with your juggle… Sometimes it’s the co-ordination that gets messed up. And when people’s lives are negatively impacted by the way their attention functions, to the point where it’s actually causing problems, that’s when sometimes it gets diagnosed as ADD.”
Jha goes on to speak about the idea of “meta awareness,” where you check in with yourself mentally and are cognizant of any distractions or off-task thoughts. People living with ADHD who go through mindfulness training and practice meta awareness, she says, are less likely to experience problems in their day-to-day lives:
“Not only does it connect to using the flashlight, it allows us to cultivate that broad, receptive stance toward what is unfolding right now, so that the executive control system can update, shift or redirect when things are off-track.”
Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues.
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