Oh, the injustice! Do people with ADHD feel injustice more?

People can differ significantly in their inclination to perceive injustice and the strength of their reactions when they see an injustice. Is this seemingly positive trait something that adults with ADHD feel more, or less?

There are broadly three types of ‘justice sensitivity’:

  • Observer-sensitive persons can be aware of and sensitive to the disadvantages of others.
  • Beneficiary-sensitive persons disapprove of injustice to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of others.
  • Perpetrator-sensitive persons who perceive themselves as causing disadvantages, react with guilt and strive to punish themselves or to compensate the victim.

Lots of evidence highlights the importance of justice sensitivity as a way to understand justice-related behaviours such as protesting, altruistic sharing, moral courage and solidarity.

ADHD and Justice Sensitivity

Both adolescents and adults with ADHD have been reported to show high justice sensitivity. This means people with ADHD may generally perceive injustice more frequently and intensely, and show stronger emotional and behavioural responses to injustice. There is some evidence that justice sensitivity may be a bigger issue in inattentive ADHD than in hyperactive/impulsive or combined presentations of ADHD.

Whilst justice sensitivity has been defined as a personality trait, it is thought that the different emotions and motivations we exhibit as ADHD adults in situations of injustice, result in a different system of justice sensitivity than people without ADHD. Justice sensitivity has even been suggested to link ADHD and depressive symptoms.

A really interesting study which used an experimental game showed that participants with ADHD showed higher justice sensitivity than controls, visible in their behavioural reactions in the game AND again people with inattentive type ADHD showed higher justice sensitivity than people with hyperactive or combined type ADHD subtype.

Many studies focus on the negative behaviours of ADHD, such as antisocial behaviour, but this evidence that those affected with ADHD may have pronounced justice sensitivity might even be viewed as a positive trait in some, even though it could lead to issues or conflict with others.

Authors: James Brown PhD and Alex Conner PhD.

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