Wants (and Why)
If you’ve ever wondered why you behave the way you do,
you can now say confidently, “My brain made me do it.”
BY ELLEN B. LI TTMAN, PH. D.
Advances in technology are offering us an increasingly bigger window into the neurological bases of ADHD. We now know that differ- ences in structure, functionality, activation, and connectivity all come
into play. The key to understanding your behaviors—why you act the way you
do—is to understand the needs and wants of your unique brain. If friends and
family can’t make sense of your actions, and sometimes you can’t either, learning
how your brain works will explain your behaviors.
Rules of Engagement
The brain regulates our responses to stimulation,
and needs to be engaged in order to function well.
Optimal arousal enables brains to be alert, receptive, and ready to attend and learn. Well-choreo-graphed executive functions cue the skills necessary for effective response selection. Goal-directed
behaviors can be fine-tuned without the distractions of emotions or sensations. Generally, non-ADHD brains are adequately aroused by the shifting internal and external stimulation of daily life.
Regardless of fluctuations in stimulation, those
brains can operate with reasonably sustained
focus, fueled by the dependable coordination of
neurotransmitters. They can self-regulate with
relative confidence, and exercise an adequate
amount of control over their behavior.
ADHD brains do not adapt as easily; they have
More Dopamine, Please
their own rules of engagement. They are motivated
by their search for optimal stimulation, rather than
by what others label as important. Their degree of
arousal differs based on whether the request for
attention comes from an internal desire or an
external demand. The owners of these brains are
not making conscious choices to ignore external
demands, although it often appears that way. In-
stead, internal motivations are intrinsically more
meaningful to their brains and, as a result, more
dopamine becomes available. Concerns about time
or consequences are dwarfed by the pursuit of
pleasurable reinforcement. Whether through sen-
sation or hyperactivity, ADHD brains compel their
owners to scan the environment for engaging
stimulation. When mundane tasks can’t be
avoided, ADHD brains may be compromised in
their ability to choose goal-oriented responses.
Learning from experience is the basis for sound
decision-making, and the motivation to learn is
modulated by the promise of reward. The current
Incentive Salience Model describes a dopamine
reward system that is responsible for motivation,
positive reinforcement, and pleasure for all brains.
However, dopamine-increasing behaviors are even
more gratifying to ADHD brains.
Key aspects of the reward system are underac-tive in ADHD brains, making it difficult to derive
YOUR AMAZING ADHD BRAIN