In a nutshell, monotropism is the tendency for our interests to pull us in more strongly than most people. It rests on a model of the mind as an ‘interest system’: we are all interested in many things, and our interests help direct our attention. Different interests are salient at different times. In a monotropic mind, fewer interests tend to be aroused at any time, and they attract more of our processing resources, making it harder to deal with things outside of our current attention tunnel.

Source: Me and Monotropism: A unified theory of autism | The Psychologist

Monotropism is promising as a unifying theory for both autism and ADHD. This list of 6 common features of autistic thinking applies also to ADHD. Autism and ADHD are interest-based operating systems.

Selections on Monotropism from Autism: A New Introduction to Psychological Theory and Current Debate

Another theoretical account which might fall under the broad heading of integration and complexity is the interest-based theory, monotropism (Murray et al., 2005). This theory, developed by autistic academics, posits that the defining feature of autism is atypical allocation of attention. The difference between autistic and non-autistic people is characterised as follows: “It is the difference between having few interests highly aroused, the monotropic tendency, and having many interests less highly aroused, the polytropic tendency” (ibid., p. 140). Consequently, this model places causal primacy on the intense focus apparent in the diagnostic domain of RRBIs, with other diagnostic features following from this underlying difference. To the extent that social interaction requires diffuse and distributed attention, autistic people are not well suited to that activity. Monotropic theory, which awaits empirical testing, provides a vivid description of the autistic experience of novelty and change, giving a valuable insight into the autistic experience of a crisis, or “meltdown”:

To a person in an attention tunnel every unanticipated change is abrupt and is truly, if briefly, catastrophic: a complete disconnection from a previous safe state, a plunge into a meaningless blizzard of sensations, a frightening experience which may occur many times in a single day. (Ibid., p. 147)

Monotropic attention would lead to the development of specialised skills but also difficultly dealing with change.

The only theory I’m aware of that seems to make a decent stab at explaining the many seemingly disparate features of autistic psychology – from inertia to communication problems to hyperfocus and spiky profiles – is monotropism. However, this theory (formulated by autistics who aren’t professional psychologists) has received relatively little attention from psychologists and awaits direct empirical verification.

Source: Happé, Francesca. Autism (p. 128, 129, 150). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Yet somehow the algorithm had correctly identified this as the thing likeliest to make me click, then followed me across continents to ensure that I did.

It made me think of the old “Terminator” movies, except instead of a killer robot sent to find Sarah Connor, it’s a sophisticated set of programs ruthlessly pursuing our attention. And exploiting our most human frailties to do it.

Source: Social Media’s Re-engineering Effect, From Myanmar to Germany – The New York Times

The theory of Monotropism (Murray et al., 2005) argues that the central core feature in autism refers to an atypical strategy being employed in the distribution of attention, which is suggested to be the basis of the ‘restricted range of interests’ criteria inherent in the diagnostic criteria of both the DSM-IV (1994) and ICD-10 (1992), and further found in the testimonies of subjective experience from autistic people themselves (Grandin, 1995; Lawson, 1998, Williams, 1994). Monotropism suggests that the amount of attention available to an individual at any one time is necessarily limited, as can be found amongst numerous cognitive studies. Thus the shaping of many cognitive processes depends upon a competition between mental processes for this scarce resource. Murray et al. (2005) propose that strategies for the way attention is used is normally distributed, and to a large degree genetically determined, between those with a broad use of attention, and those who concentrate attention on a small number of ‘interests’ (likened to the difference between a dissipated ‘diffused light’ and a ‘torch beam’). The authors propose that those at the tightly focused end of this spectrum are those diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. It is suggested by Murray et al. (2005) that social interaction, the use of language, and the shifting of object attention (implicated by other psychological theories) are all tasks that require a broad attention, and are inhibited by a narrow use of attention.

This theory suggests a number of features found in autistic subjective accounts that are not attended to by the other psychological theories, including E-S theory (see section 2.4). For instance, how individuals on the autism spectrum show a tendency toward either being passionately interested in a task or phenomena, or not interested at all, or how an unanticipated change ‘within the attentional tunnel’ can lead to a catastrophic disconnection from a previously ‘safe’ state of mind.

If employing a monotropic interest system, the ability to use information gained in the past is compromised, as information is gained only in relation to a narrow set of interests. Thus ‘top- down’ or ‘whole picture’ processing is not ‘dispreferred’ as such, but will tend to be idiosyncratic and resistant to change or criticism. This resistance is not fully explained by a ‘systemising’ tendency (Baron-Cohen, 2008).

Monotropism also suggests a reason for the sensory integration difficulties found in the accounts of autistic people, as they suggest there is a ‘hyper-awareness’ of phenomena within the attentional tunnel, but hypo-sensitivity to phenomena outside of it. Also, that an interest in the social world may not occur in the early years of life:

‘We suggest that the uneven skills profile in autism depends on which interests have been fired into monotropic superdrive and which have been left unstimulated by any felt experience.’ (Murray et al. 2005: 143).

Indeed, the recognition of others may only occur if connected to the fulfilling of interests that the autistic individual has, otherwise the existence of others may not be registered at all. A monotropic focus leads to a fragmented view of the world, and from such a viewpoint it is exceptionally hard to make sense of social interactions, leading to potentially both apparent and real ‘theory of mind’ difficulties. Rather than being a ‘core deficit’ however, this is described as a tendency produced as a consequence of a monotropic interest system.

Source:  So what exactly is autism? 

Newt Scamander as a compassionate portrayal of autistic monotropism (special interests):

While I am not the first to notice this – as Newt Scamander’s autistic tendencies such as his lack of eye contact, his subdued voice and, of course, his ‘special interest’ have been pointed out and praised by many – I do believe that few people have managed to accurately capture what it is about Newt’s hidden condition that makes his potential diagnosis so worthy of praise.

Of course this could, as always, just be coincidental. But, if not, then I love the idea that something which so many autists pride as their special interest: Harry Potter, has, in turn, been used to spread a positive message which our community can also cherish.

Source: Why ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is the Autism Film We NEED – Autistic & Unapologetic

Compare the portrayal of autistic special interest/monotropism in Fantastic Beasts with She-Ra & the Princesses of Power.

On monotropism:

Monotropism is a cognitive strategy posited to be the central underlying feature of autism. A monotropic mind is one that focuses its attention on a small number of interests at any time, tending to miss things outside of this attention tunnel. The theory of monotropism was developed by Dr Dinah Murray, Wenn Lawson and Mike Lesser starting in the 1990s, and published about in the journal Autism in 2005. Wenn Lawson’s further work on the theory formed the basis of his PhD, Single Attention and Associated Cognition in Autism, and book The Passionate Mind.

A tendency to focus attention tightly has a number of psychological implications. While monotropism tends to cause people to miss things outside their attention tunnel, within it their focused attention can lend itself to intense experiences, deep thinking and flow states. However, this hyperfocus makes it harder to redirect attention, including starting and stopping tasks, leading to what is often described as executive dysfunction in autism, and stereotypies or perseveration where a person’s attention is repeatedly pulled back to the same thing.

Source: Monotropism – Wikipedia

While we’re here, Newt Scamander as a non-toxic portrayal of masculinity:

Newt Scamander, the protagonist of this Harry Potter spinoff, is a refreshingly atypical male hero for a fantasy adventure blockbuster. This video essay is a detailed character study of Newt Scamander’s performance of masculinity.

Source: The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

It is only now, a decade after the financial crisis, that the American public seems to appreciate that what we thought was disruption worked more like extraction—of our data, our attention, our time, our creativity, our content, our DNA, our homes, our cities, our relationships. The tech visionaries’ predictions did not usher us into the future, but rather a future where they are kings.

They promised the open web, we got walled gardens. They promised individual liberty, then broke democracy—and now they’ve appointed themselves the right men to fix it.

But did the digital revolution have to end in an oligopoly? In our fog of resentment, three recent books argue that the current state of rising inequality was not a technological inevitability. Rather the narrative of disruption duped us into thinking this was a new kind of capitalism. The authors argue that tech companies conquered the world not with software, but via the usual route to power: ducking regulation, squeezing workers, strangling competitors, consolidating power, raising rents, and riding the wave of an economic shift already well underway.

In a winners-take-all economy, it’s hard to prove the rulers wrong. But if the tech backlash wants to become more than just the next chapter in their myth, we have to question the fitness of the companies that survived.

Source: An Alternative History of Silicon Valley Disruption

A key idea in attention capital theory is that knowledge work organizations implicitly prioritize convenience over value production. It makes everyones’ life easier in the moment if you’re quick to reply to email, willing to hop on a call, attend one more planning meeting and join that internal committee.

But as Seinfeld’s example hints, it’s possible that many of these organizations might end up producing massively more value in the long run if they set things up so their cognitive talent could shut the metaphorical door, disengage from the logistical tangle, and decide, “we’re going to make this thing funny.”

Source: Jerry Seinfeld’s Closed Door – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.

Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.

Source: Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

I updated “Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context” with a selection from “Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport” to reinforce the point about deep work.

One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.

Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.

Source: Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

Knowledge work is deep work. Make space in K-12 for deep work and the neurodivergent minds that prefer it.

“The companies which are looking to sell to them should be well aware that the sub-fractionalization of attention isn’t a good thing. In reality, this is a terrible development for advertisers and even for those pinning influencer-marketing channels. The meme fatigue and phone bored might as well turn out to be ticking time-bombs of the attention economy.”

Source: Phone Bored – Om Malik