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Emotional dysregulation may function as a fourth core symptom of ADHD, and it has many wide-ranging negative effects in adults.

Although the symptoms and effects of ADHD vary, the condition tends to have lasting effects on the social, academic, and professional lives of those affected. ADHD first appears in childhood and continues to affect between 3% and 5% into adulthood. The three core symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. A recent study published in PLOS One provides evidence for emotional dysregulation, or a disordered ability to process emotional information, as a fourth core symptom of ADHD. The study reviewed past research on the topic, focusing on how emotional dysregulation features in patients with ADHD, as well as the associated brain activity.

Non-Adaptive Emotion Regulation Strategies Are More Common in Adults With ADHD

This study relied on a review of scientific literature gathered from various databases, including PsycInfo, Medline, PsycArticle, Scopus, and others. A total of 22 studies met inclusion criteria, which included an ADHD clinical diagnosis based on DSM-IV or later guidelines, participants were over 18 years old, and participants had a measure of emotional regulation. The studies were then stratified into three categories: those focusing on measures of emotional regulation, those focusing on neurological and psychophysiological activity related to emotional regulation, and those focusing on treatments that lead to emotional regulation outcomes. 

Although the studies included were heterogeneous and contained a variety of disparate factors that make data comparison challenging, they did indicate that adults with ADHD use non-adaptive emotional regulation strategies, such as rumination and catastrophizing, more commonly than other adults. 

Emotional Dysregulation Correlates with Symptom Severity

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Among adults with ADHD, a correlation was observed between emotional dysregulation and symptom severity, executive functioning, psychiatric comorbidities, and criminal convictions. Due to the wide-ranging nature of the effects of emotional dysregulation and the fact that emotional dysregulation exhibits certain patterns of brain activity, the authors note that this component of adult ADHD should be more explicitly addressed in ADHD treatment and that it may be a good target for future pharmacological treatment.


Soler-Gutiérrez, A. M., Pérez-González, J. C., & Mayas, J. (2023). Evidence of emotion dysregulation as a core symptom of adult ADHD: A systematic review. PloS One, 18(1), e0280131. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0280131

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