The ADHD Brain

How the Science of ADHD Is Advancing

Open data sharing and new diagnostic tools like fMRI brain scans and neuroimaging have advanced our understanding of ADHD over the past 25 years.

The science of ADHD is evolving and, with it, so is our understanding of the condition. Over the past 25 years, research has blossomed as institutions share data sets to combine and test earlier findings, says Dave Anderson, Ph.D., of the Child Mind Institute.

The use of fMRI brain scans in ADHD research has helped scientists spot abnormalities in underlying neural networks and circuitries. Differences in the default mode network (overactivity) and frontostriatal circuits (underactivity) of the ADHD brain remain key findings.

“The default mode network (DMN) is one of the most fascinating and significant discoveries to come out of neuroscience in the past 20 years,” writes Edward Hallowell, M.D., in his ADDitude article, “ADHD’s Secret Demon — and How to Tame It.” “The DMN seems to be more active in those of us who have ADHD, and it may explain our tendency to make ‘careless’ mistakes. In fact, when using a functional MRI, you can predict a mistake 20 seconds before it is made by watching for activity in the DMN.”

The emergence of multiple large-scale, multi-site studies has called into question other previous conclusions from neuroscience research. In short, complex answers are replacing some of our more simple ones, and care is improving as a result.

“Large-scale, multi-site, open-science data sharing brings us closer and closer to the idea that we might discover either objective task-based markers or objective biological markers that would allow us to index risk for ADHD and make this not so much dependent on therapists’ subjectivity and the quality of a diagnostic interview,” Anderson said during his 2023 ADDitude webinar on the evolution of ADHD.

For more information about the evolution of ADHD research and diagnostic tools, watch Dr. Anderson’s free ADDitude webinar, “ADHD Then and Now: How Our Understanding Has Evolved.” Dr. Anderson is Vice President of School and Community Programs and former Senior Director of the ADHD & Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute.

ADHD Research: Next Steps

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