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Is selfishness a symptom of ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that begins in childhood and can persist into adulthood. Some common symptoms include difficulty staying focused, being easily distracted, difficulty organizing tasks, restlessness, and impulsive behaviors.

While the core symptoms of ADHD relate to problems with executive functioning in the brain, some people believe that having ADHD may also lead to increased selfishness and self-centered behaviors. The reasoning is that the impulsivity and lack of focus associated with ADHD can make it challenging for people to consider others’ needs and focus on anything outside of their own interests.

This article will explore the question of whether there is truly a link between increased selfishness and ADHD. It will examine the evidence around ADHD symptoms and selfish behaviors, look at the root causes and risk factors for selfishness, and provide tips for managing any selfish tendencies that may arise with ADHD.

Is There a Direct Link Between ADHD and Selfish Behaviors?

There has been limited research directly examining if ADHD leads to increased selfishness, but some studies provide insights:

– A 2012 study found that children with ADHD were more likely to make selfish choices in resource allocation tasks compared to children without ADHD. However, their level of generosity was similar when they had to divide resources between themselves and others.

– A 2016 study found that adults with ADHD showed similar levels of selfish decision-making as those without ADHD when tested in economic bargaining games. There were no differences in how much they valued fairness and cooperation.

– Some research has linked ADHD to higher rates of narcissistic personality disorder, which is characterized by selfishness, entitlement, and lack of empathy. However, narcissism is very different from occasional selfish behaviors.

Overall, the current research does not show a clear, direct link between ADHD itself and increased selfishness across all situations. While some studies have found small differences, people with ADHD do not consistently make more selfish choices. Their concern for others is similar to neurotypical individuals in many circumstances.

This suggests that while ADHD may contribute to struggles with impulsive and inattentive behaviors, it does not inherently make someone more selfish. Other factors beyond ADHD likely play a larger role.

Root Causes of Selfish Behaviors

Although ADHD does not directly cause selfishness, some symptoms may increase the likelihood of occasional self-centered behaviors. Potential root causes include:

Difficulty With Perspective-Taking

Some people with ADHD struggle with cognitive empathy and seeing things from other perspectives. Their brains are often hyper-focused on their own thoughts and interests. This can lead to overlooking or misunderstanding others’ needs.


Impulsive behaviors are a hallmark of ADHD. People may act quickly based on their own desires without fully considering consequences. This can come across as selfish, even if unintentional.

Emotional Dysregulation

ADHD involves difficulty regulating emotions. Strong emotions like frustration may prompt reactions like lashing out, which could seem selfish to others.

Seeking Immediate Reward

ADHD minds crave dopamine. People may pursue activities they find instantly gratifying without thinking about how it affects others.


ADHD-related forgetfulness regarding obligations, conversations, and shared plans can inadvertently inconvenience others. This may feel selfish from the outside.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Juggling ADHD symptoms like disorganization and distractibility can be exhausting. People may become preoccupied with their own coping and feel unable to expend energy on others’ needs.

So while selfishness does not directly stem from ADHD itself, struggling with symptoms can sometimes lead to self-centered behaviors or create situations that appear selfish to others.

Other Contributing Factors to Selfishness

In addition to ADHD symptoms, other traits and experiences can contribute to increased selfish words or actions, whether someone has ADHD or not. These include:

– **Lack of empathy** – An inability to connect with and understand other perspectives can drive selfishness. This may tie into ADHD challenges with cognitive empathy.

– **Immaturity** – Children and teens naturally tend towards selfishness as their brains are still developing. ADHD emotional immaturity can prolong this.

– **Competitiveness** – Having a competitive personality oriented towards achieving success can fuel selfish behaviors.

– **Insecurity** – Feeling insecure in relationships may cause someone to prioritize their own needs as a self-protection mechanism.

– **Past trauma** – Experiencing neglect, abuse, or deprivation as a child can program the brain towards selfish behaviors.

– **Substance abuse** – Addiction fuels isolation from others and pursuit of short-term rewards like getting high.

– **Mental health issues** – Conditions like narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia are linked to increased selfish attitudes and actions.

So when selfish behaviors accompany ADHD, it is often a combination of impulsive symptoms mixing with environmental and personality factors unique to each individual.

Tips for Managing Selfish Tendencies with ADHD

If you or someone you love with ADHD struggles with occasional self-centered behaviors, some strategies for minimizing this include:

– **Practice self-awareness** – Reflect on your actions and how they affect others. Notice patterns in when selfish behaviors occur.

– **Seek treatment for ADHD** – Managing core symptoms like impulsivity with medication and therapy provides a foundation.

– **Work on perspective-taking** – Consciously try to imagine other points of view before acting or speaking.

– **Cultivate empathy** – Read books, watch movies, or have conversations to expand your understanding of what others experience.

– **Keep commitments** – If you say you’ll do something, follow through. Prioritize others’ needs you’ve agreed to.

– **Create reminders** – Use planners, calendars, timers, and to-do lists to remember tasks and events important to others.

– **Apologize when needed** – If you act selfishly, own up to it and acknowledge the effects on others.

– **Communicate needs** – If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet obligations, explain this so others understand.

– **Set self-care boundaries** – While giving to others, also make space for your own health and wellbeing.

– **Seek counseling** – If selfish behaviors persist despite efforts, therapy can provide help understanding and changing patterns.

With self-awareness, self-care, communication skills, and empathy development, occasional selfish behaviors resulting from ADHD symptoms can often be kept in check.

The Verdict on ADHD and Selfishness

In summary, while ADHD does not directly cause someone to be more selfish overall, certain symptoms can contribute to sporadic self-centered behaviors. Impulsiveness, emotional dysregulation, and difficulty seeing other perspectives increase the likelihood of words or actions that seem selfish.

However, innate selfishness is not a core characteristic of ADHD itself. With self-management skills and empathy development, selfish tendencies can be minimized successfully. If highly selfish attitudes or patterns emerge, counseling provides help addressing the root causes.

So in individuals motivated towards personal growth, ADHD does not have to equate to ongoing selfishness. With the right support, those with ADHD can learn to live and act unselfishly.