What is hyperfocus?

Hyperfocus hypnotic eyes

What is hyperfocus?

Hyperfocus is a state of intense concentration and deep immersion in an activity. When hyperfocusing, you may become oblivious to the outside world and neglect needs such as eating or going to the washroom. During hyperfocus, it is difficult to shift attention and you may become very irritated if your hyperfocus is interrupted.

Example: In a state of hyperfocus, I may play a video game non-stop for 8+ hours straight.

Academic literature on hyperfocus

In a study of hyperfocus, Ashinoff et al. (2021) defined 4 features of hyperfocus:

  1. Hyperfocus is induced by engaging tasks (e.g. fun, interesting, etc.)
  2. Hyperfocus is an intense state of sustained or selective attention
  3. During hyperfocus, there is diminished perception of non-task relevant stimuli (e.g. awareness of the external world and time fades away)
  4. During hyperfocus, task performance improves

Hyperfocus in autism & ADHD

The abundance of anecdotal evidence suggests that hyperfocus may be a core symptom of ADHD despite not being mentioned in the DSM criteria. Hyperfocus is also reported to be experienced by autistic individuals.

In a study assessing co-occurring traits of autism and ADHD, it was suggested that hyperfocus and inattention were shared traits that may be the result of a common mechanism.

Hyperfocus & flow

While there is little academic literature on hyperfocus, positive psychology describes a state called “flow” which has been described very similarly to hyperfocus. 

Flow is defined as “a state of intense concentration with the loss of reflective self-consciousness.” 

Based on the evidence from studies of flow and hyperfocus, we can assume that they are the same phenomenon.

Sources & further reading

Ashinoff, B.K., Abu-Akel, A. Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research 85, 1–19 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8

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