The Brain and ADHD - What, When, Why, Who?

The Executive Functions are located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. There we find four circuits… These circuits travel from the prefrontal area of the brain in different directions and influence our thoughts and behaviors.



The “What” Circuit- This circuit takes the route of the outer surface all the way to the basal ganglia. It is linked to working memory and therefore it is there that what we think starts to guide what we do and how we behave- especially when it comes to goals, plans and looking ahead. Yes, planning and goal setting!


The “When” Circuit- In this circuit we find timing. Found between the prefrontal cortex and the very back of the brain- the cerebellum, this circuit manages the timeliness of our actions, the sequence of our behaviors and simply put, when we do what and how smoothly we transition between steps. Yes, time management!


The “Why” Circuit- This is where it gets “hot.” This third circuit travels through the center of the brain to the amygdala and is heavily linked to our emotional responses. Here is where what we think controls how we feel and vice versa. In this circuit is the “why” we choose a path. When we think about many things we could be doing, here is where we choose from the options based on how we feel about the choices and how motivated feel. Yes, motivation and emotion!


The “Who” Circuit- Traveling from the frontal lobe to very back of the hemisphere of the brain, this circuit is all about self-awareness. It is where we are aware of who we are, what we do, how we feel internally and in relation to others, and how we view what is happening to us. Yes, me versus others!


When we examine these four circuits we are given a better understanding of where some of the symptoms an individual with ADHD may originate. This may explain the variation in the kinds of symptoms that present. Some people have more working memory deficit. Some people have more emotion regulation problems. Some people have more difficulties with timing, but less difficulties with all the others. But they all involve the what, when, why and who circuits.

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