INTPs and ADD

(The following is an excerpt from The Secret Lives of INTPs.  I release this chapter into the public domain.)

In this chapter, we will review the literature on type and ADD and compare the symptoms of being an INTP with the symptoms of having ADD. Then we will compare the symptoms of having ADD/ADHD with the symptoms of being a normal, typical INTP.

So, is type related to ADD/ADHD? Yes, in some ways. But they are quite variable ways.

Keirsey argued that ADHD is a false label targeted at the Artisans (read here, here). Alcock and Ryan (2000), summarizing previous research, found that EP and ESP preferences are in fact overrepresented among children (mis?)diagnosed with ADHD. It has further been noted that many of the behaviors attributed to ADHD seemed to be indistinguisible from the effects of normal EP type preferences and youth. (2)

So much for the expected. In one sample of 110 children diagnosed with ADHD, ESFPs were the most preferred type, but INFPs, ISFJs, ISFPs, and ESFJs were also overrepresented. (3) Guardians, what? There's nothing in the SJ temperament description to suggest that they would be preferentially selected for an ADHD diagnosis—indeed, the opposite. What's going on here? This wasn't an isolated occurrence, either—in another case ESFJs constituted 18% of a sample of children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. (4)

And what about INTPs? One study of adults diagnosed with ADD/ADHD found that the sample was highly NP. (We will examine this study more in a bit.)

Should we be surprised at this amount of type variation? Maybe, maybe not. There are a number of factors that should be weighed when considering the validity of the results:

  • Falsification of type due to pressure from parents and educators.
  • The effects of drugs upon the personality. It has been found that type preferences get muddled when a person is on drugs. The MBTI manual recommends that the MBTI not be administered until 30 days have elapsed since the user's last drug use. (5) ADHD drugs—being the nigh-exact equivalent of slow-release cocaine (6)—have the potential to distort a person's type preferences, producing false readings.

But more than either of these issues, there is the fact that the likelihood of any particular person being diagnosed with ADD depends upon things that are not associated with either a brain disorder or psychological type. For example, a child's place of dwelling, or whether a child is born in December or January.

Did you know that ADHD loves the east coast of the United States, yet shuns the west coast? (7) I wonder what makes the west coast so much more wholesome than the east coast? It's as though a giant hand had sorted all those with ADHD onto one side of the continent, and all those without ADHD onto the other side of the continent. Very odd, very odd indeed.

But even stranger, did you know that if you diagnose a child using the official American standards for ADHD, the child is 3-4 times more likely to be discovered to have a brain disorder than if the official European standards are used? (8) This suggests that we could cure more than half of American children simply by sending them to Europe for rediagnosis. Curious; perhaps there is some healing property in that bracing Old World air.

There is also the fact that a 2012 study of 900,000 Canadian children found that boys born in December were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than boys born in January. Furthermore, girls born in December were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls born in January. Likewise, December boys were 41% more likely to be put on meds than January boys, and December girls were 77% more likely to be put on meds than January girls. (9) What could be causing this bizarre pattern? Perhaps it has something to with the position of the stars, or the sign under which the child is born—such things have long been known to affect the balance of the four humors. Or then again, it could have something to do with the fact that due to date cutoffs, children entering the school system in December are 1 year younger than children entering the school system in January. Goodness knows that an age gap of one year can be hard to tell apart from a brain disorder.

How subtle and delicate is the line between normalcy and disorder! Fortunately we have experts who can tell the two conditions apart for us should there be any doubt in the matter.

I wish that I could say more about the rigorous science underlying this disorder and its treatment, but that would be a book unto itself. For now, let me simply say that type is merely one factor that can cause misdiagnosis, and that ADHD is diagnosed differently from school to school, state to state, and country to country. It is thus to be expected that studies of type and ADHD will show differing results—if only because neither type nor any sort of problem at all is causing this “disorder.”

ADHD and NPs

The NP group includes INTPs, INFPs, ENFPs, and ENTPs. Alt (1999) did a study comparing 54 adults diagnosed with ADHD with 56 nondiagnosed adults. It was found that NPs were “highly represented” among the adults diagnosed with ADHD.

It is apparent, therefore, that sometimes—though not all the time—NPs are more frequently (mis?)diagnosed with ADHD than other types. Why could this be?

Let's examine why INTPs might be seen to have a brain disorder.

How to Diagnose any INTP with ADD

The DSM-IV is the official American handbook for diagnosing mental problems. Not everybody uses it, but since it's the supposed standard and comes with a higher risk of misdiagnosis than its European counterpart, we'll use it for our list of symptoms.

It has been frequently suggested among the amateur type community that INTPs tend to get diagnosed with ADD rather than ADHD. And indeed, a study found a difference between children diagnosed with ADD and children diagnosed with ADHD. Children with ADD were 72% introverted while children with ADHD were 60% extraverted. (10)

Therefore we will look at the set of symptoms considered characteristic of the “Predominantly Inattentive Type” of ADHD, i.e. ADD.

If a person exhibits any six of the following traits for at least six months in two or more settings (for example, school, home, work) and has exhibited them "to a point that is disruptive and inappropriate for developmental level," and the symptoms cause “clinically significant impairment in social, school, or work functioning” then a person is considered to have ADD.

Disorganization

One ADD diagnostic criterion is disorganization. The official symptom list seems to imply that this is primarily a matter of disorganization in carrying out activities, but in practice it extends to include physical disorganization as well. Therefore, we will discuss both aspects.

INTPs are a messy Perceiver type, so it should be expected that they would be disorganized. In confirmation of this, Beckham's (2012) study of Perceiving college students found that 61% did not think they needed a clean workspace to study. I have never been diagnosed with ADD, but my preferred organizing system for dealing with handouts, homework and class papers was to shove them into my textbook for that class. The papers would accumulate until they were 1-2 cm thick and the book was bulging with them. After awhile the handouts would get ripped, crinkled and dirty around the edges where they stuck out of the book. (There was a distinctive patina that resulted from exposure to the crumb and eraser shavings-covered bottom of my backpack.) Sometimes there was a basic stratigraphic order, like a queue system, that indicated the order in which the handouts had arrived, but I never bothered to maintain it, so by the end of the year they were in any order they happened to fall into. One year, during a particularly paper-intensive class, I was unable to fit all the papers into my textbook. Instead of putting them into a binder or folder, I decided to put them directly into my backpack, where they were held in place between fat textbooks. It worked fairly well.

Of course, this did make it harder to find what I was looking for. When the teacher told the class to take out such-and-such a handout, I was always ruffling around furiously while my SJ classmates pulled out their neatly tab-divided binder and flipped directly to the handout, which was still as crisp and white as it was the day the teacher passed it out.

Did such disorganization matter, academically speaking? Not often; in fact, it doesn't matter a bit if you're the last one to find the handout so long as you do find it eventually. (Tip: throw nothing away.) If your system is ugly and nasty and messy but works, then why change it? You won't get a better grade for having a bunch of spotlessly filed papers. (11)

How about planners? When the teacher would give the due date of a test or an assignment, I would take the class syllabus and scribble a note on the margin with an arrow pointing at the date in question. After awhile the syllabus got covered with old notes and dates and reminders. Meanwhile, my SJ classmates would open their planners to the calendar section and neatly write in a note with the When and What.

And let's not even get started on the locker. I've cleaned it out with a black trash bag at the end of the year. Or how about that messy desk, messy car and messy house? The personal space of a Perceiver is often a complete disaster.

Aside from simple physical disorganization, people with ADD are also said to exhibit difficulty organizing tasks and activities. This is also a Perceiver trait. Let us take the example of studying and doing homework. Unlike the Judgers, Perceivers do not say to themselves, “I will do one hour of math homework, then one hour of English, then one hour of French, and then I will play.” In the first place, Perceivers play first. In the second place, Perceivers do not care about any arbitrary sequentiality--why not do tasks in any order it pleases you? In the third place, Perceivers seldom see much use for arbitrary time limits like “one hour.”

Once again Beckham's study furnishes us with an example of how Perceivers approach task organization. In the area of studying, it was found that Perceivers did not decide beforehand what they would study or for how long. Nor did they have specific study times or habits.

My study and homework habits went something like this: "Hm, what classes do I have tomorrow? Is there anything due for those classes? I know I have some math homework, I'll do that first before I get sleepy. Then maybe some biology? When was that handout due? I'd better double check...no wait, on second thought I can just do that on the bus. Probably it would be better to do the history thing first." Once I had my plan in place I quickly disgarded it. "Meh, this math assignment is really long and I'm getting tired of crunching numbers. I need a break. I'll do some easy history next...hm, actually I just don't feel like history right now. I'll work on biology instead, and I'll do the history during first period tomorrow. I can type it up in the computer lab during lunch. Okay, that'll work."

It's not that I had trouble organizing tasks and activities—I could come up with a dozen ways to organize my tasks and activities—it's just that I didn't feel like following my plans for long, so I abandoned the old ones and came up with better ones that fit the changing circumstances. Like all Perceivers, I followed spurts of inspiration and avoided the pits of exhaustion by doing whatever I felt like at that particular moment. Therefore I never had any set study schedule or routine.

This approach is characteristic of the overall Perceiving preference for improvisation over planning.

It seems possible that INTPs could qualify as being disorganized in the areas of space, time, and tasks.

Forgetfulness

Humorous anecdotes of INTP forgetfulness are so ubiquitous that this section seems almost unnecessary. From forgetting one's lunch to forgetting one’s luggage, INTPs are forgetful each and every day. On a roadtrip I planned (improvised) with an INTP and an ENTP, we forgot so much stuff that it seemed we spent half the time shopping for stuff we neglected to bring—including an entire cooler of food that I left in the kitchen. The reason for INTP forgetfulness is primarily that they are occupied with thinking about abstract matters and therefore neglect concrete details.

INTPs obviously fit this diagnostic criterion.

Easily Distracted

It should be noted that there are differing type-specific causes for easy distractibility. An ESTP, for example, might be distracted by the noises of children having fun out on the playground. However, this is probably not a typical cause of INTP distractibility.

If an INTP is considered “distractable,” there are two behaviors that may cause this impression. In the first place, INTPs can easily tune out boring people, i.e. people who repeat things, make small talk, and belabor a point after the INTP already understands. It doesn't take much provocation to turn off the talking heads in the outside world and turn on the mental entertainment system.

  • When a classmate asks a question about a simple topic the INTP understands already, the INTP tunes out.
  • If the teacher goes on and on about a concept the INTP understands already, the INTP tunes out.
  • If a teacher repeats instructions twice, the INTP tunes out.
  • If there is nothing much useful going on, the INTP tunes out.

From the perspective of the outside world, the INTP may therefore seem distracted, but from the INTP's perspective they are concentrating deeply.

When an INTP is occupied with their inner world, they can walk the world in a daze, completely undistracted by outside stimuli. Thus it is actually inappropriate to say that they are easily distractable, for in this state they are very difficult to distract indeed—at least from the INTP's point of view. From the perspective of an observer in the outside world, however, the INTP is seen as totally distracted from them. Distraction is relative. Keirsey noted that INTPs “seem able to concentrate better than any other type.” Outside observers, however, see the INTP's concentration as distraction.

There is also a second reason why INTPs may be perceived as being easily distractable.

Keirsey noted that INTPs prefer to work alone and without distractions. Why is this? In the first place, it is because they are introverts. But also, it is because INTPs tend to wrestle with more complicated problems than most. For me, when I'm deep in thought it's like juggling twenty balls at one time. When a distraction comes along I fumble and they all go crashing to the floor. It takes awhile to gather up all the balls again and get them back into the air. Ever been working at the computer on a report and then have a power outage? One moment you're busy, the next--nothing! This is what a distraction does to an INTP: it cuts off power and ends deep thought.

The twenty ball juggling act comes naturally as the result of the INTP's interest in complex systems. Types who aren't interested in complex systems may only keep a few balls up in the air at a time, which is to say that they will only consider a few factors when conducting an analysis. It's easy for them to get the balls up and lay them down again. By contrast, the INTP seeks to emplace dozens of factors to generate a big picture that makes sense from every angle. But it's hard to juggle twenty balls, and it requires concentration. Sometimes the threads of intuitive understanding are extremely fine and tenuous, and a distraction can snap them. A brilliant thought in the mid-gestation can be destroyed by the sound of a door slamming. A profound insight can be obliterated by the jingle of a telephone. Just as the spark of inspiration begins to catch the tinder, a chattery person blows it out.

To achieve a deep state of concentration and juggle as many balls as possible, it is necessary to either have silence and stillness or to tune out one's surroundings to simulate this effect. INTPs use both techniques: they avoid distractions when possible, and if not, then they tune them out as best they can.

In school, I never attended group study sessions because I knew they would be a waste of time. The pace would be too slow and the talk of the other people would prevent me from thinking productively. I preferred to work alone in my room, without any music on. Sometimes for particularly hateful tasks even my room was too distracting with all its fun stuff, and I would work at school in an empty hallway. Of course, then I had to put up with people walking past and talking. At home, I made the most of my hours alone because I knew they would be my most productive time.

Looking at this from the outside, one might say, “INTPs can't do their best work in an environment with normal levels of noise. Therefore they are easily distractable.”

Sometimes, in some circumstances, INTPs are easily distracted by the outside world. But constantly and continuously they are distracted by the inside world.

So yes, INTPs can be perceived as easily distractable.

Losing Important Items

Along with being constantly lost in thought comes the habit of losing things: the car keys, the checkbook, the library book, the paper that describes what to study on the exam. A common self deception: "I'll just set this here for now." The INTP subsequently forgets about the item and later it is discovered to be lost. How many times have I have discovered an item in some obscure place and thought, "Oh yeah, I remember putting this here now. It did make sense at the time."

Typically what happens is that I'll be busy thinking about a problem with my body on autopilot and the primitive reptile brain at the controls. As it turns out, reptiles aren't very good at noticing when and where they leave stuff; while I'm “off duty” the reptile brain may decide to leave my USB stick in some obscure hole where it won't be found for several months. Reptiles also put food away in funny places (they may take food items into the coatroom to put them away with the gloves and hats, or they may attempt to store refrigerator items in a cupboard). Later, I wonder where item X is and the reptile brain shrugs and says, "You think I remember where I put that?"

This criterion is actually redundant because forgetful people (see previous symptom) lose things as a matter of course. One factor predicts the other, and both can be explained by the INTP habit of being continually lost in thought.

Not Listening When Addressed

INTPs often decide not to listen. If people are engaging in boring small talk or repeating themselves or discussing irrelevant points or teaching something in a boring or inefficient way, the INTP stops listening.

The INTP is still paying sharp attention, of course--just not to the outside world. As they stare blankly into the Great Beyond, their mind is actively engaged in pondering matters of more meaningful import.

Over the years I have become very adept at not listening. My primitive reptile brain cannot actually understand words, but it does understand tones of voice. It knows just when to nod and when to make a noise of acknowledgment or wince or give a little laugh. Thus it seems that I am paying attention to people, when in reality I am paying attention to the problem of how to design my dream aquarium, taking into account aesthetics, the pros and cons of live vs. plastic plants, ease of cleaning, space for fish to swim in, ease of viewing from various angles, bubbler location and aeration capabilities, the pros and cons of snails, the location of the heater, the placement of the aquarium so as to avoid falls and wall staining and of course the type of fish I want to buy. All this time my reptile brain is nodding and going, "Yeah. Uh huh. Wow. Ooh. Mm. Eeh. Bleh."

In class I would stare blankly at the teacher or at the whiteboard or at a page of the book, probably giving the illusion of rapt attention. All the while, of course, I would be plotting a new science fiction story and having dramatic laser battles in my head. Fortunately, my experience has been that if you read the book outside of class then you don't actually have to pay attention in class. Unless of course it's one of those classes where the teacher doesn't teach from the book (you have to watch out for those, especially in college).

When focusing on the inner world, INTPs tune out the outer world. Thus they are not listening.

Has Difficulty Staying Focused on Tasks or Play

An understimulated INTP mind is like a computer with a lot of unused processing power: if the user is letting the computer lie fallow, it will automatically start defragging the harddrive or performing a virus scan or running a screensaver. When an INTP is subjected to drudgery, they will often flee into the sanctuary of their mind and curl up with a good thought. (This of course assumes that the task is simple enough for the reptile brain to handle. If it isn't, then their real mind is stuck minding the shop in a state of most pitiable boredom.) For an INTP, most tasks will fall into three categories:

  1. Highly interesting. An INTP will focus their whole mental resources onto such a task and will exhibit neither forgetfulness nor distractedness. This is often the case at the beginning of employment when an INTP is learning the ropes of a new job. It is also the case at the beginning of a course or when a new concept is presented in class. INTPs are very interested in learning new things, the newer the better. Practicing a concept that they already mostly understand does not really interest them. Working endless variations of the same thing does not interest them either. Nor does achieving mastery of a subject interest them; they already know they could do it if they really felt like it, and to an INTP that is enough. By the time they've gone through the practice examples in the book, the magic may already be gone. To maintain this state continuously, an INTP needs to have either a very tough problem, a very novel problem, or a very enjoyable problem.
  2. Boring But Easy. When the magic is gone, a task becomes boring. If the task is boring but easy, the INTP's response will be to let the reptile brain handle the front desk. This is where "unable to focus on tasks at hand, cannot sustain attention in activities" comes in. During my work at a thrift store, I was charged with the easy but monotonous work of cleaning up merchandise left strewn around by messy customers. At first the work was interesting and kept my full attention. But after awhile, I figured everything out and there was nothing new to learn. Since the work was essentially mindless, I let my reptile brain take over while I mentally checked out in order to invent a faster system for organizing clothes. It is this type of mental detachment that is described so aptly by this symptom criterion. Few other types are capable of this kind of escape. At another job, my coworker asked if I was on drugs because I was so “out of it.” She hastened to add that she knew I wasn't, because I was too mentally alert, so apparently it was my deep state of concentration on inner matters that evoked the comparison. I was certainly not “focusing on the tasks at hand” or “sustaining attention in activities.”
  3. Boring But Hard. This is the absolute worst kind of task. Not only does it require the INTP to pay attention, but it offers zero intellectual stimulation. My worst experience of this was the time I worked as a cashier at a grocery store. Since continuous chitchat was required with customers and checking had to be accurate, I was required to give 100% attention. The job was mentally unrewarding and worse yet, my mind was stuck chained to my body. Unfortunately, some schoolwork is like this. INTPs may be so bored that they are tempted to check themselves out even when it increases the time and effort it takes to do an assignment. While not beneficial, this inappropriate mental checkout is not proof of a brain disorder—rather it is the natural result of a mind being forced to perform an extremely uninspiring repetitive task at length. Think of it this way: a child can play for hours with a set of building blocks, but an adult gets bored with them pretty quick. INTPs generally need more stimulation than is provided by the average page of schoolwork. The baby blocks aren't fun for long. This is more often a flaw in the school system rather than a flaw in the INTP's ability to concentrate on a task at length.

Conclusion: For an INTP to be happy, a job should be really, really interesting or really, really mindless. INTPs will not focus on a task or sustain attention in it if they find they do not need to, or if the task is excessively mindless.

Does Not Follow Instructons or Finish Tasks

Failing to follow instructions can be the result of the INTP not knowing what the instructions were because they weren't listening in the first place. (We've already discussed several reasons why this might be.) To compound the problem, the INTP may try to intuit the instructions and end up being wrong.

However, the “failure to complete tasks” is a typical Perceiver trait. Perceivers do not feel the Judgers' need for closure; they are comfortable leaving a project till later. Indeed, Perceivers typically have houses full of half-finished projects. Slowly, slowly these projects head towards completion, until one day, miraculously, they are done (or not). There's also the fact that Perceivers continually redefine the scope of the project in light of new data.

Perceivers are also comfortable saying, "I'll finish it later." Given that one of the defining marks of a Perceiver is a lack of need for closure, and that INTPs are Perceivers, we may safely conclude that INTPs have a habit of leaving projects open. Which is the nice way of saying that they fail to finish tasks.

Doesn't Pay Close Attention to Details or Makes Careless Mistakes

As with forgetfulness, I could devote an entire chapter to hilarious INTP anecdotes in this area. Jungian psychologists widely acknowledge this aspect of the INTP type; for example, Keirsey (1998a) noted that INTPs are the type that misses the turnoff. However, I'll simply mention that when an INTP is busy chewing their mental cud, they don't pay much attention to details. Preoccupied with the abstract, they ignore the physical: "Oops, I left my car's lights on again for the fourth time." "Oops, I filled out this form wrong because they put the name fields in reverse order." "Oops, I just did all the even problems instead of all the odd ones." "Hey, the fire alarm's going off. Guess the food's done."

There is also the fact that sensors tend to focus naturally on concrete details whereas intuitives focus on broad, global, abstract matters. Indeed, this symptom is something like a penalty on the intuitive way of thinking. This is not surprising considering that the vast majority of public school teachers are sensors.

Avoids/Dislikes Activities That Require Prolonged Mental Effort (I.e. Homework)

Curious; I didn't realize there were students who sought out or liked homework...

Anyway, there are two ways an INTP may fit this criterion. First, the INTP may say to themselves, "Cool, problem one! Thinkthinkthink. Yay! I understand this concept. On to problem two! Oh wait, this is the same problem, only with different numbers. Darn. Okay, onto problem three. Wait, this is still the same problem, only with different numbers. Okay--groan--on to problem four. Surprise, it's the same problem with different numbers. Are we having fun yet?" And it only gets worse from there. It is the mentally demanding yet monotonous nature of such tasks that INTPs dread--and such dread produces procrastination and avoidance.

Another phenomenon that plays into this is the tsunami effect described in the section on school. This is the tendency of an INTP to begin with a simple task (“I'll just work on this first part a bit”) and end up getting sucked into doing the entire project all at once, which requires enormous amounts of time and effort. Beckham found this tendency in Perceiving students: 81% put tasks off until right before they were due; subsequently the students would complete the tasks all at once in a continuous, unbroken flow with ever building momentum.

An INTP has an instinctive knowledge of this effect and realizes that if they start working on a task for "just a few minutes" it may end up taking a few hours because the task will take on a life of its own and they can't stop. The vortex of creativity will sweep the INTP up and not put them down until the task is finished or something interrupts the flow. For example, an INTP may set out to pick up a few items of clothing lying on the floor and end up trying to do a deep clean and radical reorganization of their room. Or, an INTP may set out to read a few pages in a book to help them get to sleep at night and then end up finishing the book at 2 AM and analyzing the fascinating implications of what they read until 4 AM.

How does the INTP prevent themselves from being sucked down into this whirlpool? By avoiding and procrastinating the task that will supposedly take just a few minutes. I have come to realize that when I get home, the first thing I start working on may very well consume the rest of my night. Also, if there is some disagreeable task that I am avoiding or procrastinating, I can fool myself into working on it by telling myself "I'll just work on it for a few minutes." Of course, once the dreaded task has been initiated, it doesn't seem so bad after all and the tsunami effect accomplishes the rest. (Then again, sometimes the tsunami leaves the task half finished because the INTP's eyes turned out to be bigger than their stomach.) Suppose that an INTP has a big essay due in a month. The teacher suggests that they spend "just a half hour each night" working on the essay and they'll finish it easily (a typical Judger strategy). But what happens when the INTP takes the teacher up on that suggestion and ends up spending just a few minutes working on the essay?

The answer is that they get sucked into the creativity vortex. Suddenly twenty balls are flying through the air. The INTP is scanning the internet for facts, scribbling notes and developing paragraphs, sketching out the body and conclusion, and beginning to work on the citations. They know they should get it all down right away or else it'll be a lot of effort to pick up all the balls again. But then POW!--something happens to snap them out of it and the balls fall.

The next day the INTP knows not to work on the essay or else they'll get sucked in again. Anyway, it would be hard work getting those twenty balls back up in the same order again, and boringly redundant too, and there's plenty of time left since so much work has gotten done already... (ominous music) In short, those "few minutes" are a lie and the INTP knows it, albeit unconsciously. But they can't explain why this is save for a vaguely defined fear of committing themselves fully to a task. After all, does the INTP really want to spend a whole evening--for so they instinctively know it will amount to--working on a boring essay?

And what about when a parent says, “You spent an entire hour goofing off when you could have been working on your paper. Why didn't you use those sixty minutes more productively?” What the parent doesn't realize is that the paper actually requires somewhere between three to four hours to finish. Perceivers don't like to break things up into bits; in fact, 61% of the Perceivers in Beckham's study found that breaking tasks up into pieces reduced the quality of their work, made the job longer, and diminished their pleasure in the activity. Either three to four hours of free time are available, or they aren't. A single hour is no good—it might as well be no hours at all. So why not spend the useless hour playing? Sooner or later a three to four hour block of free time will open up—probably right before the paper is due. Then the task can be done in a single great explosion of work.

By definition Perceivers procrastinate activities that require sustained mental effort. But once caught up in such an activity, they can engage in it for several hours if nothing disturbs their focus. Even a boring task can take on some interest if one turns it into a chance to create a new state-of-the-art system of some kind. (12)

Discussion

Only five of these nine symptoms are necessary to diagnose a person with ADD. INTPs typically exhibit many symptoms of ADD; were they not to exhibit such symptoms, there would actually be something wrong with them. But though there are clear resemblances between ordinary INTP traits and ADD traits, perhaps there may be some objections as follows:

  • “Yes, all INTPs exhibit some symptoms of ADD, but the ones who are actually diagnosed have more extreme forms of the symptoms. Thus they aren't “normal” INTPs.”

Of all the INTPs I know of, the one with the absolute worst case of ADD symptoms was Einstein. Knowing what we know about INTPs and their penchant for deep concentration on complex matters, I'd say it's pretty obvious that curing Einstein of his “disorder” would have made him unable to make his brilliant discoveries. A cured Einstein would have put things away in their proper places, paid close attention to everyday details, and remained attentive to his surroundings. Preoccupied with the daily details of life, his mind would not have been able to focus upon the mysteries of the universe. It is an either/or proposition.

Of course, the standard retort goes, “Yeah, but he was a genius. Most INTPs with ADD aren't.” This ignores the fact that geniuses aren't the only ones capable of making important discoveries. An INTP with even a mediocre IQ is better suited than most people for scientific inquiry simply because of the architecture of their personality. There are tons of completely unexplored scientific areas where nobody—not even a person with an IQ of 60—has done any research. There is plenty of work for INTPs who have the same beneficial concentration and focus that Einstein had, but not same intellect. Will the discoveries of an INTP with average intellect ever be as important as those made by Einstein, an INTP with superior intellect? Probably not, but does it matter? There aren't nearly enough geniuses to go around. Therefore ordinary INTPs who are capable of high concentration and focus are needed at every level. Will these INTPs have more trouble than usual in the world? Sure. The less like an ESTJ and ESFJ you are, the more trouble you will have. But that applies to all INTPs.

Another objection might be:

  • “The symptoms I observe in my relative/friend/acquaintance have different causes and manifestations than the ones you describe.”

That is a valid point, and probably to be expected given the diverse causes of ADD. My intention here is not necessarily to argue that all ADD symptoms are explained as I have described, but merely to demonstrate how a child psychologist without a knowledge of the INTP personality might fallaciously decide that there is something wrong with such a child based upon ordinary characteristics of the type. The point is to show one way that INTPs can potentially be misdiagnosed.

Can We Prove the Existence of ADD?

Sensors outnumber Intuitives. Therefore it is by definition impossible for NP children to be normal because they are numerically in the minority. So then, there would appear to be a problem with this assumption: “Children who do not show the same behaviors as the majority of other children are exhibiting symptoms of disease.”

Since we cannot accept rarity alone as proof of disease, we must find other proof. There is, of course, no known test that can distinguish the presence of ADD. We could point to ways in which the symptoms of ADD hamper one's life, but as we have seen, the symptoms are also helpful in many ways. Whether the symptoms are seen as helpful or detrimental seems to depend to a large extent upon 1.) the simple force of opinion; 2.) the environment the person is emplaced in; and 3.) the type of work they are being asked to perform.

What if we examined the lives of people who exhibit ADD symptoms to see if they turn out better than or worse than average? If people with ADD lead worse than average lives, then perhaps it means they have a brain disorder.

As we've previously discussed, INTPs have a smaller number of friends than most. INTPs hate their jobs and hop from job to job incessantly. The INTP divorce rate is through the roof. INTPs are more likely than average to use drugs and extremely likely to smoke. Female INTPs are probably the most disliked type/gender combination.

It’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that being an INTP impedes your ability to function normally in society? There is almost no doubt that INTPs would lead happier and healthier lives if they were all transformed into ESFJs. But this does not mean that being an INTP is a brain disorder.

So what other proof do we have?

Why INTPs Tune Out

Now let's throw a few more balls into the air. Here are a few more factors that cause INTPs not to pay attention.

The class is too easy and hence boring to the INTP.

INTPs are the type most overrepresented in the gifted population. A class that is geared towards the common denominator may be too slow or repetitive to hold an INTP's interest. The parrot is a particularly intelligent bird, to use the common meaning of the term. If you keep it in a toyless, joyless cage, it will pluck its own feathers out. It you keep an INTP in a boring class, they will tune out. Do you drug the parrot to cure its Feather Pulling Disorder? Or do you give it something to keep its mind occupied? INTPs tend to be interested in courses that are challenging, relevant, and break ground on a new frontier for them.

The INTP sees the class as irrelevant.

If an INTP doesn't see any use for a subject, they are unlikely to feel like learning it and more likely to study something else in class--namely drawing, creative writing, languages, etc.

The INTP's thoughts are particularly juicy at the moment.

Even if a subject is interesting, an INTP may have an even more juicy thought to gnaw on. During these times they will be much more abstracted and distant. Usually these thought processes cycle to completion within a few days and the INTP will go back to normal.

The class is taught by Guardians for Guardians.

Guardian teachers are scheduled, detail-oriented, focused in the moment, planful, concerned about doing things one right way, and tend to focus on examples rather than principles. INTPs are nonscheduling, global, future-oriented perceivers who want to do things in strange new ways and learn about principles first and examples afterwards. In elementary school in particular, when most teachers are ESFJs, the INTP is the complete opposite of the teacher's type. INTPs are like cats in a school taught by dogs. Knowledge is imparted in the way least suited for them.

The INTP gets lost in thought about something the teacher said that was interesting.

Occasionally, a teacher will let fall a fleck of gold dust that attracts an INTP's immediate attention. While the teacher goes on explaining something else, the INTP picks up the gold dust and examines it. Ten minutes later, the teacher is still talking but the INTP hasn't heard a word of it because they were so busy thinking about the new idea the teacher sparked.

The INTP doesn't want to go on absorbing information when there's a brick missing from their foundation of knowledge.

An INTP likes to have a full understanding of the “why” of things. If a teacher skips a logical step, the INTP may stop all listening until they have figured out the missing puzzle piece. The trigger for this sounds something like, “Wait, but I thought--” The INTP must then reconcile their preconceptions with the new knowledge until everything makes sense again. They will tune out new data while they sort the tangle out.

Without that logical link, all subsequent information is free floating and doesn't get incorporated into the system of facts and ideas the INTP has been building in their head. But while an INTP is trying to figure out the missing link, the teacher is talking and the INTP isn't paying attention.

How to Daydream Without Suffering For It

Let's say you're stuck in some utterly dull class. You've been daydreaming, or drawing artwork, or writing a novel, or reading under the desk, or studying a foreign language. All of a sudden, you "wake up" and the teacher is saying something like this:

  • "Okay, is everyone there? Now look at the diagram on the left..." (What page are we on? What is the teacher even talking about?)
  • "So are there any questions on the test?" (Test? What's on it and when is it happening?)
  • "...And don't forget to turn your assignment in by the new due date." (What was that about a new due date?)
  • "Are there are any other questions?" (Yeah. What are you talking about?)
  • "Okay, let's break into groups." (What are we doing now?)
  • "Okay, I'm going to say the word in singular, and I want you to repeat it in plural." (Wait, I don't know how to use singular vs. plural! ...Oh, you probably just explained that, didn't you?)
  • Or, you snap out of your thoughts to discover papers of unknown significance being handed out.
  • Or, all the other students are rummaging around in their backpacks for some reason known only to them.
  • Or, the teacher pops a question about something--and calls on you to answer it. But you don't have the slightest idea what she/he said.

As one can imagine, this sort of thing can cause problems when it comes to following instructions and participating in class. Often I was the last person to obey instructions because I was trying to figure out what the other students were doing so that I could mimic them.

Happily, for every one of these scenarios, there is a way to avoid trouble. Remember, the number one rule is to always maintain the appearance that you are paying attention, even if you aren’t. Make sure your book is always open to the page the teacher is talking about. Occasionally, flip a page randomly to make it look as though you are checking information. This is just good maintenance to stay out of trouble.

Techniques

Scenario 1 – You didn't hear the page number.

Teacher: "Okay, is everyone there? Now look at the diagram on the left..."

Response: Glance sidewise at the book of the person next to you. Get the page number and flip there. Stare intently at the diagram. Continue daydreaming.

Scenario 2 – You didn't hear the information about the assignment.

Teacher: "So are there any questions on the test?"

Response: When you’ve spaced out an entire important announcement, don’t ask the teacher for clarification when the opportunity is offered. You are just making yourself look bad in front of everyone. Rather, check the syllabus or ask a classmate. If you must ask the teacher, do so privately and use the indirect interrogation technique described below.

Bird-Dogging

In WWII they made extensive use of an interrogation technique called "bird dogging." In this technique, a POW would be given a cellmate buddy who was actually working for the other side. The “buddy” would casually remark on how bad the cell food was and then lead the POW into a discussion about how well fed his old unit was. Before the night was through, the interrogator would have extracted information on how well-supplied the POW’s unit was, what morale was like, how many desertions there had been, and who the commanding officer was. The interrogator essentially gave the POW a dime's worth of information and encouraged him to spin it into a dollar.

The reason this technique is called bird-dogging is that in effect, the interrogator acts like a bird dog, leading the POW to tender tidbits of information. The interrogator's dilemma is to imply that he knows more than he does without revealing his own ignorance and exposing himself.

Informationless students face a similar problem: how to elicit information from a teacher without revealing their ignorance of important dates and announcements. For example, suppose a student wasn't listening when the teacher announced the date of the test. The student knows that the test is on either Monday or Tuesday--he got that much at least--but he wants to be absolutely sure so that he can procrastinate up until the last minute. Here is how he goes about asking the teacher to tell him what day the test is on, all the while giving the impression that he already knows when it is:

Student: "So, would the test be on the 21st or the 22nd then? I’m using last year’s planner and the days don’t match the dates." (Why buy a new one when the old one is perfectly preserved and has no entries save for your doodles?)

Teacher: "The 22nd is a Tuesday, right? Yes--it's on Tuesday. You should get a new planner."

Student: "Okay, sounds good. I'll mark it on my syllabus." (The real planner.)

This student gives the impression that they already knew what the day of the test was, but were merely curious about the date. The mention of noting the date on their syllabus adds a bonus illusion of SJ diligence and preparedness. Make a point of showing off what little you know; let the teacher fill in the rest.

Scenario 3 – The due date has been pushed back.

Teacher: "...And don't forget to turn your assignment in by the new due date."

Response: Do your assignment within the next two days (the teacher's choice of words indicates it isn't due tomorrow, so you've got at least two days.) That way you'll have the assignment ready no matter when it's actually due.

Scenario 4 – You have zero idea what the teacher is asking about, but it appears you can ask questions.

Teacher: "Are there are any other questions?"

Response: It's probably not important anyway. If it is, it will be brought up again. If it isn't, you'll figure it out on your own.

Scenario 5 – You have no idea what group you should be in or what is going on.

Teacher: "Okay, let's break up into groups."

Response: Get up and walk around until you've figured out what's going on. If you can't figure it out, find a random group and ask, “Am I with you guys?” They will have to explain what the groups are for in order to ascertain whether you belong in their group or not. Or, just keep stalling (root through your backpack or read a paper or something) until the groups form. Sooner or later everyone else will be joined up and you'll be able to see which group is short a member. Join that group. (Admittedly, I have on occasion joined the wrong group by mistake.)

Scenario 6 – You weren't listening to the explanation on how to do a task, and now you are required to do it in a group setting.

Teacher: "Okay, I'm going to say the word in singular, and I want you to repeat it in plural."

Response: Mumble along with the rest of the class while frantically flipping through your textbook to find the section where it explains singular vs. plural. The index is your friend.

Scenario 7 - You snap out of your thoughts to discover papers of unknown significance being handed out.

Response: Accept the papers and scan them for instructions. You'll almost always be able to figure out what you're supposed to do with them.

Scenario 8 - All the other students are rummaging around in their backpacks for some reason known only to them.

Response: Rummage around in your backpack too until you see your classmates pulling out whatever it is they're looking for. Then start actually looking for that item yourself.

Scenario 9 - The teacher throws out a pop question--and calls on you to answer it.

Response: This will rarely be a problem if you keep up with the assigned reading and follow the pop question prevention plan (see below). Otherwise, you'll just have to improvise.

How to Avoid Being Asked Pop Questions

The reason that teachers ask questions in class is to a.) increase class involvement, and b.) inspire fear. A student who is afraid of looking dumb in front of their peers will presumably study harder and pay more attention to avoid embarrassment.

With these two motives in mind, the best defense against a teacher's pop questions is a vigorous offense. Make it a point to periodically volunteer for a question, preferably a complex one, and then explain the answer with confident expertise. The teacher will mentally check you off her list of people that need to have fear inspired in them. In addition, since you are obviously (ehem) already involved in class, she won't feel the need to push you towards any further participation. If you regularly volunteer, you will seldom be selected to answer a question.

Remember, the point of volunteering is to keep the war on your home turf. If you selectively volunteer for questions whose answers you know in advance, then you'll be 100% right 100% of the time. You'll also come off sounding masterful, prepared and intelligent. On the other hand, if you let the teacher call on you when she feels like it, then it'll be on her terms, and you may not know the answer. To sum it up: being proactive pays off. Then you can spend your classtime wandering through the Elysian fields of imagination and designing new mechanical pencils in your head.

 

2 Provost in Alcock & Ryan, 2000

3 Dudding & Dudding in Alcock & Ryan, 2000

4 Meisgeier, Poillion & Haring in Alcock & Ryan, 2000

5 Myers, McCaulley, Quenk & Hammer, 1998

6 If you crush a Ritalin pill into powder and snort it, you can get a cocaine high—and occasionally a cocaine heart attack followed by instant death.

7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012

8 Rohde, Szobot Polanczyk, Schmitz & Tramontina; Santosh in Singh, 2008

9 Morrow, Garland, Wright, Maclure, Taylor & Dormuth, 2012

10 Dudding & Dudding in Alcock & Ryan, 2000

11 Actually I did have one teacher who graded for the neatness and organization of the class handouts that had been passed out. As I recall, I waited until near the last week, then organized them all at once.

12 Oddly enough, another phenomenon I have experienced is that after a period of sustained mental effort I will break out of my deep processing and have a sudden urge to get up, leave my chair and do something. For instance, while editing a difficult passage of a story, I may suddenly feel the urge to get up and go eat a snack even if I'm not hungry. The strenuous, prolonged nature of the mental work being done--even if the work is enjoyable--and the pressure of aiming for absolute perfection seem to produce stress which these interludes help ease. Similar involuntary breaks have been noted in soldiers engaged in minesweeping duty...a job known for high tension and extreme concentration and focus.