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Individuals with ADHD are more likely to participate in politics, study finds

  A study conducted in Israel before the national elections in 2019 found that individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD...

 A study conducted in Israel before the national elections in 2019 found that individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to participate in politics than individuals without ADHD symptoms. The findings held even after the researchers controlled for age, sex, education, political orientation, therapy for ADHD symptoms, and several other factors. The study was published in PLOS One.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms like difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While it was initially thought to affect only children, recent studies have shown that ADHD symptoms can persist into adulthood, making it a lifelong condition. The estimated prevalence of ADHD in the population ranges from 1% to 7.3%.

Political participation, which refers to voluntary involvement in political activities by members of the public, is a crucial aspect of functioning democracies. It enables citizens who are not professional politicians to influence public policies and the elected officials who shape those policies. Consequently, many researchers focus on studying factors that influence individuals’ participation in politics. One topic that receives significant attention is how neuropsychiatric conditions, such as ADHD, impact political behavior.

Study author Israel Waismel-Wanory and his colleagues wanted to explore how ADHD affects political participation. Among other things, they wanted to know whether individuals with ADHD differ from those without this disorder in their views about freedom of speech, tolerance for multiple opinions and voices, trust in government institutions, and in how they feel about their level of political representation. 

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed data from a 5-wave online panel study conducted in Israel. They focused on the data collected before the Israeli national elections held in April 2019. The study included 1,369 Jewish Israeli adults recruited by iPanel, an online research company.

Participants completed assessments that measured adult ADHD symptoms using the Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS). They also provided information on their political participation, including traditional political actions (e.g., voting, contacting politicians, participating in demonstrations) and digital political activities (e.g., connecting with politicians and parties through social media, expressing political opinions on social media, sharing news on social media).

The study also collected data on participants’ news consumption habits (frequency and active/passive engagement) and their political attitudes (sense of political representation, freedom of speech, democratic norms, political orientation, trust in political institutions, and political interests). Additionally, participants provided demographic information such as age, gender, education level, and income.

The results showed that 14.6% of participants exhibited symptoms of adult ADHD. This percentage was higher than in previous studies, likely because the assessment relied on participants’ self-reports rather than clinical diagnoses. The proportion of participants with ADHD symptoms decreased with age and was higher among those with average income compared to both lower and higher income levels.

Participants with ADHD symptoms reported higher levels of overall political participation, both in traditional forms and through digital means. However, they were more likely to be passive consumers of news, meaning they waited for political news to come to them rather than actively seeking it out. Additionally, participants with ADHD symptoms displayed less tolerance towards differing opinions. These findings remained consistent even after controlling for potential influences of age, gender, education level, income, political beliefs, religiosity, and stimulant therapy for ADHD symptoms.

“Overall, we find evidence that individuals with ADHD display a unique pattern of political activity, including greater participation and less tolerance of others’ views, but not necessarily showing greater active interest in politics,” the study authors concluded.

The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of psychological specificities of individuals with ADHD. However, it also has limitations that need to be considered. Notably, it was performed in one specific political situation and on members of a small homogenous national group. Additionally, all findings were based on self-reports. Studies on other cultures and using clinical diagnosis of ADHD might yield different results.

The study, “ADHD and political participation: An observational study”, was authored by Israel Waismel-WanorI, Yael R. KaplanI, Shaul R. Shenhav, Yair Zlotnik, Shira Dvir Gvirsman, and Gal Ifergane.

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