Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention

Psychol Res. 2021 Feb;85(1):1-19. doi: 10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8. Epub 2019 Sep 20.


'Hyperfocus' is a phenomenon that reflects one's complete absorption in a task, to a point where a person appears to completely ignore or 'tune out' everything else. Hyperfocus is most often mentioned in the context of autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but research into its effect on cognitive and neural functioning is limited. We propose that hyperfocus is a critically important aspect of cognition, particularly with regard to clinical populations, and that it warrants significant investigation. Hyperfocus, though ostensibly self-explanatory, is poorly defined within the literature. In many cases, hyperfocus goes undefined, relying on the assumption that the reader inherently knows what it entails. Thus, there is no single consensus to what constitutes hyperfocus. Moreover, some studies do not refer to hyperfocus by name, but describe processes that may be related. In this paper, we review how hyperfocus (as well as possibly related phenomena) has been defined and measured, the challenges associated with hyperfocus research, and assess how hyperfocus affects both neurotypical and clinical populations. Using this foundation, we provide constructive criticism about previously used methods and analyses. We also propose an operational definition of hyperfocus for researchers to use moving forward.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*