Part of what has made attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., the most prevalent psychiatric illness affecting young Americans today is the marketability of psychostimulants like Ritalin and Adderall. But another essential contributing factor is the pace at which digital technology is transforming our way of life, writes Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College.
More than a behavioral disorder, A.D.H.D. arises in people whose brains partially block the reception of dopamine, a chemical that gives us a rewarding feeling when we do things that please us, from telling a good joke or learning a new skill to having sex and taking drugs. But the milder enjoyments in life don't always excite those with A.D.H.D. and they can find tasks lacking in novelty, such as working in an office or attending a university lecture, to be painfully boring.
At one time, many thousands of years ago, intolerance of sustained, repetitive tasks would have helped nomadic tribes seek out better shelter and new sources of food. Ever since the arrival of agriculture, and more recently, cubicles, modern society has begun selecting for those who can interest themselves in the repetitive, or least force themselves to tolerate it. But this needn't be so, argues Friedman, especially in our education system:
"In school, these curious, experience-seeking kids would most likely do better in small classes that emphasize hands-on-learning, self-paced computer assignments and tasks that build specific skills."
In his Big Think interview, leading child psychiatrist Harold S. Koplewicz argues that treatment of A.D.H.D. is not harmful and diagnosing the disease early results in remission as the child ages:
Read more at the New York Times
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