Butler, ADHD, & Watching Television
A number of my clients with ADHD zones into television for long intervals. They do this in spite of their presumed inability to maintain "sustained attention." They also do it in spite of confessed difficulties with reading, planning, and managing time.
How come? Standard behavioral models may suggest that television is short term, high variety, with lots of drama. It should keep ADHD interest. Unfortunately for theory, my same clients often prefer the Discover Channel and learning about ants, birds, and cats.
Butler once observed that monkeys will press a lever for the sole reinforcement of being able to watch other monkeys. It appears reasonable that we, a step different from other primates, also have Psychological Adaptations for monitoring each other. We seem efficient detectors of anger, scorn, lying, happiness, and fear.
A couple of other Psychological Adaptations are likely. One system may be whatever mechanisms we have for group conflict. The chimpanzee raids described by Jane Goodall may be the ancestor of Superbowl Number Whatever. That same foundation could be elaborated into Nintendo, although there are some ADHD kids who have no skill with Nintendo. Thus, some ADHD clients can watch golf or baseball, others can handle neither of these most boring events. Other clients with ADHD spend hours with the nature shows, perhaps reflecting Adaptations for hunting or plant care. Television and Nintendo grow as school fails in salience.
Pennington has speculated that some academic abilities and the executive functions (for example, planning, event comparisons, analyzing and resynthesizing events, time estimation and management, emotional regulation) were formed more recently. Given the comparatively late development of reading and writing, such skills may be spandrels (derivatives of other adaptations) or exaptations (an adaptation redirected to meet a new need). Newer things in our minds are thought to be more dependent than older ones are in regard to needing an intact platform of earlier skills. Thus, academics, the executive functions, and even complex social perceptions (reading another's mood and adjusting your own behavior accordingly) seem impaired in ADHD clients while the sports and nature shows keep their salience.