What motivates individuals with ADHD? A qualitative analysis from the adolescent’s point of view


Individuals with ADHD appear to respond differently to incentives than their peers. This could be due to a general altered sensitivity to reinforcers. However, apart from differences in the degree of motivation, individuals with ADHD might also be motivated by qualitatively different factors. This study aimed to harvest a range of motivational factors and identify ADHD-related qualitative differences in motivation, from the adolescent’s point of view. Semi-structured interviews allowing participants to describe what motivates them in daily life were conducted with young adolescents (9–16 years) with and without ADHD. Thematic analysis was undertaken using NVivo software. Major themes relating to motivation were identified from the interview data. These were: (1) achieving a sense of togetherness; (2) feeling competent; (3) fulfilling a need for variation; (4) gaining pleasure from applying effort to achieve a goal; (5) valuing social reinforcement; (6) desiring to be absorbed/forget problems; (7) feeling free and independent, (8) attaining material reinforcement; and (9) an enjoyment of bodily stimulation. The theme structure was very similar for both groups. However, individuals with ADHD differed in some specifics: their focus on the passing of time, the absence of preference for predictable and familiar tasks, and their less elaborate description of the togetherness theme. A broad range of motivational themes was identified, stretching beyond the current focus of ADHD research and motivational theories. Similarities and differences in motivational values of individuals with and without ADHD should be taken into account in reward sensitivity research, and in psychological treatment.

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Correspondence to Edmund Sonuga-Barke.

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Conflict of interest

Jurgen Lemiere received research Grants from FWO (G.0738.14) and the research council KU Leuven (OT/12/096). Saskia Van der Oord has been a paid speaker (Shire, MEDICE) and consultant (Janssen Cilag). Co-developer/author of a cognitive training game “Brain game Brian” and two cognitive-behavioural treatments “Plan my Life” and “Solution Focused Treatment”. Grants received from ZonMW, FWO (G.0738.14), Kinderpostzegels, Research council KU Leuven (OT/12/096), Achmea, Nuts-Ohra. Marina Danckaerts has been a paid member of advisory boards organized by Shire and Neurotech Solutions, a paid speaker at conferences (not product-related) by Shire, Novartis, Medice and paid for consultancy for Neurotech Solutions; she received research grants from Shire and Janssen-Cilag, from FWO (G.0738.14), and the research council KU Leuven (OT/12/096). Dr. Edmund Sonuga-Barke has received speaker fees from Shire Pharma, Janssen-Cilag, and Medice. He has received consultancy fees from Shire Pharma, and Neurotech Solutions; research funding and conference support from Shire Pharma, and speaker fees from Janssen-Cilag, and Medice. He has also received book royalties from Open University Press and Jessica Kingsley. All other authors reported no financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

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Morsink, S., Sonuga-Barke, E., Mies, G. et al. What motivates individuals with ADHD? A qualitative analysis from the adolescent’s point of view. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 26, 923–932 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-017-0961-7

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  • ADHD
  • Motivation
  • Qualitative research
  • Interview