Social Psych

Location: Santa Ana, California, United States

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics and an admitted diet fanatic. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of two interactive workbooks, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual and Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, she also publishes a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge and various weight loss mini-courses. She can be reached at,, or

Sunday, September 04, 2005

ADHD: Pay Attention, Now

Over the past quarter century, the numbers of those diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) has increased dramatically. More sophisticated diagnostic tools and social acceptance of the malady may be a partial explanation. However, a consideration of social changes may be a worthwhile exercise in trying to define reasons for the widespread growth of this condition.

In ancient times, say the 1960s, life at home and work bore little resemblance to our current climate. There had been many early electronic advances and zeal for modernization permeated the workplace where slow computers required hundreds of square feet of office space. The invention of correcting-type tape (we thought we'd died and gone to heaven with that one) and the adoption of electric typewriters was a revolution to the hordes of clerks and secretaries who inhabited thousands of offices, taking dictation by hand and struggling with the vagaries of purple ink ditto and ugly yellow heat-responsive thermograph machines. At home, color spread through the vast wasteland of television and 45 rpm records were replaced by long playing albums and 8 track tapes. We gloated over AM-FM stereo radios in our cars, the music drowning out the clicks of vacuum-powered windshield wipers.

We had absolutely no conception of what was to come.

The advent of cassette tapes put the entire educational industry of shorthand trainers out of business and a coveted skill became virtually worthless. The copy machine reduced the need for grunt office clerks, and receptionists no longer plugged in a web of cables to connect callers. Word processing systems and then personal computers forever changed the routine of typing.

At home, we moved from records to cassettes to CDs to ipods. Television wasn't just in color, it was cable or dish with 100 more channels to share its wasteland. The pong and pac-man games of bars and arcades moved into our living rooms in ever more advanced and sophisticated forms. We dipped our toes into the Internet and overnight learned to surf like a pro. Not only did the telephone lose its dial, it became a copier, then became totally portable and acquired the ability to take instant pictures, receive text messages, and provide games and instant worldwide access.

In the midst of this revolution in electronics, processes, equipment, and communication, was one entity that didn't change: the human mind. The flexibility and untapped potential of our brains allowed us to invent and implement creations that placed demands on us for which we were ill-equipped.

Our brains' hardwiring is virtually unchanged from prehistoric times. Over the centuries, we have learned to cram in more and more information without crashing from the overload. We handle the threat of over-stimulation by filtering the constant sensory bombardment. We acquire habits and routines that allow us to carry out many of our daily activities without having to think about what we're doing. When conscious thought is required, we are most efficient when we attend to one or two things at a time. We concentrate on one area in order to handle the action required competently and immediately. We ignore irrelevant materials floating around us because they are not our current focus.

Traditionally, we have sought out quiet places for our deep thinking. Spiritual leaders have performed their meditations in silence, in caves, cloisters, deserts, and retreats. Libraries, the place for readers and scholars to think, have always born a funereal hush. Churches and mosques are silent caverns, allowing individual visitors to concentrate on their prayers. High pressure examinations are conducted in total silence. Mental work, such as reading, writing, homework, and studying is performed in a quiet corner or separate room.

Most of those traditions have long gone. At the dawn of the Twenty-first Century, we find ourselves living in an atmosphere of constant noise and imperative, will-not-be-ignored, stimuli. Our children do their homework - trying to absorb more information than prior generations could even imagine - with the television on, the ipod or CD blaring, the cell phone ringing, and the Internet chat room demanding attention.

When they are done with their homework, they play endless video games. From the simple skateboard racing of entranced pre-schoolers to the dark violence of adolescent contests, they spend much of their time immersed in an interactive virtual world that is light years away from the flickering images of the Saturday afternoon westerns we watched with awe, or the few hours of cartoons and sit coms that early television provided.

Motor vehicles are no longer just another means of transportation. They have become electronics on wheels with boom boxes, CD players, subscriber radio networks, and built-in television monitors and DVDs.

Then we wonder at the explosion in ADHD which results in medications for the condition being among the most popular prescriptions issued.

We are surrounded by adults and children who lack the capacity to concentrate on what they read, what they see, and what they hear. When the brain fails to fully attend to new information, it lacks the ability to lay down memory traces and the information quickly fades away. The result is a loss of millions for corporations who have to keep retraining, keep reminding, keep lecturing their employees on data that is required for their job. Customers and contracts are lost because forgotten information leads to poor customer service, death to any business.

Personal lives are diminished for those who can't concentrate long enough to finish tasks they started with such good intentions. Interpersonal relationships suffer due to poor communication skills and the lack of that personal empathy which requires one to intensively focus on another human being to really understand their feelings.

While we continue to dispense the medications that act to filter the stimuli overload, and use psychological modification techniques to mold acceptable social behavior, we also need to look inside our own homes and practice preventive care. Let's limit our children's overexposure to the electronic world they love. Let's model, and reinforce, the human need for quiet time and introspection. Let's encourage reading, thinking, and family discussions instead of using electronic babysitters to allow us the time to get all that unimportant "stuff" done at the expense of our children's future.

Our brains will thank us for it and our children will have received a gift they will treasure throughout their lives.