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Researchers have spent a great deal of time looking for differences in the brains of people with ADHD, compared to people without ADHD. They have found several areas of differences. The following is a summary of what we know so far.
One fascinating topic in ADHD research is that of biological markers. Biological markers help to identify the chemical and genetic differences in people with a disease or disorder. Scientists have demonstrated that ADHD is genetically heritable; meaning, it is passed down from one generation to the next. Therefore, it makes sense to wonder, what are the biological differences (specifically brain differences) between people with, and without ADHD?
Several research studies have found that differences in certain brain structures predict the severity of ADHD symptoms. One such brain structure is the amygdala. The amygdala is associated with memory, emotion, and aggression. A smaller amygdala was associated with more severe ADHD symptoms. Researchers have also found poor neural connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex influences planning, sequencing, and strategic behaviors. Scientists speculate that this might account for problems with impulsivity; a primary ADHD symptom.
Researchers have studied both brain structures, and brain activity, in individuals with ADHD. These studies found that people with ADHD have brains that are about 4% smaller than average. The two brain areas most affected by the size reduction are the prefrontal cortex, and the anterior temporal areas. These smaller brain areas might account for several ADHD symptoms. The pre-frontal cortex is associated with self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate emotion and behavior. These are challenging areas for many people with ADHD. Damage to the pre-frontal region can cause increased impulsivity, anger, and hyperactive behavior. The anterior temporal areas of the brain affect hearing and language skills. This includes the ability to interpret language and non-language sounds; and, to understand verbal communication. Decreased brain size in this region could also influence memory and learning. Once again, these are skills that seem attenuated in people with ADHD.
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