TikTok Videos About ADHD Largely Misleading, New Study Reveals
More than half of the most popular TikTok videos on ADHD contained misinformation and only one-fifth were deemed useful by researchers, according to a new study.
April 14, 2022
Half of the most popular TikTok videos about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are misleading, according to a new study in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. TikTok was the most downloaded social media application in 2020 with more than 1 billion monthly active users; content in its #adhd channel now boasts a combined 10.6 billion views — up from 2.4 billion views 18 months ago.1,2
For the study, researchers evaluated the 100 most popular TikTok videos about ADHD, which had more than 2.8 million views total and an average of 31,000 shares each. Only 11 of the top 100 ADHD videos were created by credentialed healthcare providers (HCPs), and none were uploaded by corporations, health organizations, or for-profit and non-profit entities.
The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool for Audiovisual Materials (PEMAT-A/V) and Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) benchmark criteria were used to assess the overall quality, understandability, and actionability of the videos. Of the videos reviewed, 52% were classified as misleading (lacking in scientific evidence), 27% were classified as personal experience (personal or anecdotal experience of ADHD symptoms or treatment), and 21% were classified as useful (containing scientifically correct information about ADHD regarding symptoms, diagnosis, or treatments). Personal experience videos that contained misleading statements were classified as misleading.2
The study found non-healthcare providers uploaded most of the inaccurate videos. Further, “None of the misleading videos recommended viewers to seek out a medical, psychiatric, or psychological assessment before attributing these symptoms to ADHD,” the study explains.
Healthcare providers may have uploaded more high-quality and useful videos compared to non-healthcare providers, however, 27% of HCP videos were deemed misleading. Personal experience videos had the most engagement (i.e., views, likes, and shares) and received the highest PEMAT-A/V understandability score (98%) but had low actionability.
Researchers found that most TikTok videos about ADHD were highly understandable by viewers (scoring over 90% on the PEMAT-A/V understandability score) but had low actionability.
“This suggests that viewers are most drawn to videos made by individuals with lived experience, and less so towards institutional or HCP-created videos,” said the study’s authors, who cautioned, “The understandability score does not reflect accuracy but merely that the information is presented in an understandable manner. Thus, individuals may be seeing videos about ADHD on the platform that are highly understandable and yet misleading. This was seen in our qualitative review of misleading videos, which often had an oversimplified or reductionist explanation of ADHD.”
Social media platforms like TikTok, where #adhd is the seventh most popular health hashtag, are now a ubiquitous way to share medical information. 3
However, TikTok is the least studied major social media platform. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to assess the quality of medical information shared in TikTok videos about ADHD.
Example of Misleading TikTok Videos Cited by the Study
- Video describing “ADHD paralysis” as an ADHD symptom where the brain “physically won’t let me do anything” and “sometimes nothing causes it.”
- Video stating that individuals with ADHD lack “object permanence.”
- Video stating that “anxiety shivers,” “random noise making,” and “being competitive” are symptoms of ADHD.
1BBC News. (August 2022). TikTok named as the most downloaded app of 2020. BBC, August 10, 2021.https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58155103
2Yeung, A., Ng, E., Abi-Jaoude, E. (2022). TikTok and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1177/07067437221082854
3Zenone, M, Ow, N, Barbic, S. (November 2021). Tiktok and public health: a proposed research agenda. BMJ Glob Health.. >https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2021-007648