Understanding the ADHD Brain

by Aseess Chadha 
August 23, 2022
Understanding the ADHD Brain

It is typical of humans to seek consistency, especially in collective cultures like India. However, as much as Psychology allows the idea of grouping similar behavior, it acknowledges the idea of individual differences at the core.

We use the term ‘Neurodiversity’ to refer to the idea that people are different in the ways they think and interact with their world, propagating how these DIFFERENCES are NOT DEFICITS. It is a movement from the 90s which is constantly progressing towards instituting this ideal and commonly referred to in the context of learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum disorder, and ADHD.

Understanding ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a behavioral condition that may make everyday routines challenging, including making plans, staying organized, and maintaining focus. Trouble may also crop up while adapting to new situations.

It is characterized by three major conditions: Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity. Some symptoms of the same are enlisted below:

Why ADHD: Prevalence?

In a study conducted in 2007, 5.2% of the world population was estimated to have ADHD (Polanczyk et al. 2007). The global prevalence remains in the range of 5.2%-7.1% (Joshi & Angolkar, 2018). Coming to India, the prevalence falls in the range of 2% to 17% (Joshi & Angolkar, 2018).

The Brain

Research has shown that children with ADHD commonly show delayed brain maturation in certain areas, most prominently in the front of the cortex, involving cognitive, attention, and planning control. On the other hand, the motor cortex matures quicker than the developmental norm, perhaps pointing toward increased restlessness and fidgeting (National Institute of Health, 2015).

According to Rubia et al. (2014), recent studies have shown ADHD patients have an enhanced volume of gray matter in the Default Mode Network (DMN). Default Mode Network is a network of interacting brain regions that becomes active when we are daydreaming, not focused on the outside world, or otherwise engaged in a task or trying to reach a goal. It remains active while thinking about ourselves, others, the past, or future planning. Usually, when we are looking to work on a plan or work on a task, the DMN decreases its intrusive activity. People with ADHD find it challenging to prevent this intrusion. In other words, those with ADHD have a stronger gravitational pull toward this cognitive resting state, and, therefore, it takes more effort than is typical to shift away from it and pay attention to the task at hand.

An alteration in the brain chemistry is also observed in children with ADHD concerning Dopamine regulation. There is a dysregulation of the dopamine system where often there is less release or lack of receptors leading to its inefficient utilization. This finding has opened doors to investigating the effectiveness of medicine in reducing challenging symptoms (Campo et.al. 2011).

Research exploring the brain structure, functions, causes and interventions for ADHD is abundant and ongoing. Pharmacotherapy is partially helpful with benefits not sustaining for long periods of time. Behavioral intervention, along with medication, can be a useful approach, as preliminary evidence suggests (Campo et.al., 2011). However, research pertaining to them is still catching up. Till then, it is essential that we broaden horizons in schools, workplaces and the society at large for all kinds of wired brains; and respect the differences not reject them!

Aseess Chadha
Clinical and Research Intern, PsychLine.in.


American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Dsm-5.

Brain matures a few years late in ADHD, but follows normal pattern. (2015, October 6). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-matures-few-years-late-adhd-follows-normal-pattern

Del Campo, N., Chamberlain, S. R., Sahakian, B. J., & Robbins, T. W. (2011). The roles of dopamine and noradrenaline in the pathophysiology and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 69(12). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.02.036

Joshi, H. M., & Angolkar, M. (2018). Prevalence of ADHD in primary school children in Belagavi City, India. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(2), 154–160. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054718780326

Polanczyk, G., de Lima, M. S., Horta, B. L., Biederman, J., & Rohde, L. A. (2007). The worldwide prevalence of ADHD: A systematic review and metaregression analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(6), 942–948. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.2007.164.6.942

Rubia, K., Alegria, A. A., Cubillo, A. I., Smith, A. B., Brammer, M. J., & Radua, J. (2014). Effects of stimulants on brain function in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Biological Psychiatry, 76(8), 616–628. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.10.016

The default mode network, motivation, and attention.The Lab School. https://www.labschool.org/news/stories/default-mode-network-motivation-and-attention