10 Aug 2021

Soares LS et al. Front Psychiatry 2021; 12: 593150

Individuals with ADHD and/or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may lack communication skills in social interaction and thinking, which may be the underlying cause of difficulties in romantic relationships. This study aimed to investigate the characteristics of passionate love amongst adults with symptoms of ASD and ADHD, since dysfunctional or unsatisfactory romantic relationships may impact mental health and well-being.

Participants of this study were recruited via a social media advert for an open survey designed to study cognition, behaviour and adaptive functioning depending on ASD traits in adults. Participants were assigned to four distinct groups according to clinical cut-off points on ADHD and ASD screening tools which included the Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS-v1.1) (Kessler et al, 2005), the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) (Baren-Cohen et al, 2001) and participant recall of behavioural symptoms’ onset. To assess the passionate love intensity, the short version of the Passionate Love Scale (PLS)* (Hatfield et al, 1986) was used. To characterise the participants’ socioeconomic status, the Brazilian Economic Classification Criteria (ABEP, 2016) were used. Data were obtained from July 2016 to July 2017.

This study included 306 Brazilian adults aged between 18–58 years, with a mean (standard deviation [SD]) age of 31.8 (8.5) years. The respondents were predominantly female (73.9%); however, no significant differences were found in the distribution of sex (Chi-square: 4.81; p=0.186) between the four groups. According to the participants’ scores on the ADHD and ASD screening scales, the four groups consisted of: control group (n=92/306, 30.1%), containing participants with neither ADHD nor ASD traits; ASD group (n=42/306, 13.8%), containing participants with ASD traits; ADHD group (n=76/306, 24.8%), containing participants with ADHD traits, in which 34.2% had inattentive type, 14.5% had hyperactive type, and 51.6% had combined type ADHD; and ADHD + ASD group (n=96/306, 31.4%), containing participants with both ADHD and ASD traits. No significant differences were found between the distribution of age (Z=2.44; p=0.486), education (Z=5.85; p=0.119) and sociodemographic measures (Z=0.68; p=0.876) between groups.

Relationship trends amongst participants

Of all 306 participants, 139 were married or cohabiting with their partner, while 165 had either never been married, were widowed, separated or divorced at the time of the survey. There were significant differences in the marital status distribution (Chi-square: 36.948; p=0.001) between groups, with the ASD group having the lowest proportion of married people (n=8/42, 19.0%) and the highest proportion of people who had never been married (n=27/42, 64.3%), relative to the other groups. The rate of divorce was highest in the ADHD group (n=7/76, 9.2%) compared with the ASD group (n=1/42, 2.4%) and the ADHD + ASD group (n=2/96, 2.1%).

Passionate love trends amongst participants

There was a significant correlation amongst participants between the intensity of passionate love and symptoms of inattention (r=0.253, p<0.01), hyperactivity/impulsivity (r=0.204, p<0.01) and the AQ (r=0.212, p<0.01). With regards to intensity of love, the mean (SD) scores of the ADHD group (94.51 [5.36]) and the ADHD + ASD group (101.77 [25.8]) were higher in the PLS than the mean (SD) score of the control group (83.27 [24.37]). The corresponding differences in the PLS when compared with control group were H=−42.05 (p=0.013) for the ADHD group and H=−70.55 (p<0.001) for the ADHD + ASD group. Within the ADHD group, a significant difference and a higher PLS score was found in the inattentive group (Z =−52.31; p=0.001) and the combined group (Z=−40.24; p=0.007) when compared with the control group, while the hyperactive/impulsive group showed no significant difference (p=0.058) in this comparison.

A limitation of this study was that the relationship effects under the presence of symptoms were analysed without a diagnostic interview, and only the romantic love effect was evaluated without any information about the long-term features of love or less stable relationships. Furthermore, since the survey’s sex distribution was predominantly female, this could imply a sampling bias since both ADHD and ASD is considered more prevalent among males. There was also a difference in the sample distribution within the ADHD group, which is recommended to be taken into account when interpreting the results.

The authors concluded that relationships may be impacted by the presence of symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders, having more impact on participants with traits compatible with ASD. In this study, participants with ADHD and ASD symptoms described having a greater intensity of passionate love, as well as less stable relationships. The authors suggested that behaviours associated with ADHD and ASD may distinctly impact a person’s romantic relationship with another person. It is proposed that gaining an understanding of how people with neurodevelopmental disorders experience love might aid in clarifying the mechanisms associated with their relationship patterns.

Read more about passionate love in individuals with ASD and ADHD here


*The Passionate Love Scale (PLS) is a 15-item instrument which suggests a global measure on how in-love the respondent is. The PLS is a unidimensional instrument, which measures cognitive, emotional and behavioural features of passionate love (Hatfield et al, 1986).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the views of the author(s) and not those of Takeda.

ABEP. Brazilian Criteria 2015 and social class distribution update for 2016. Critério Classif econômica Bras 2016: 1–6. Available at: http://www.abep.org. Accessed August 2021.

Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S, Skinner R, et al. The autism-spectrum quotient (aq): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. J Autism Dev Disord 2001; 31: 5-17.

Hatfield E, Sprecher S. Measuring passionate love in intimate relationships. J Adolesc 1986; 9: 383-410.

Kessler RC, Adler L, Ames M, et al. The World Health Organization adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS): a short screening scale for use in the general population. Psychol Med 2005; 35: 245-256.

Soares LS, Alves ALC, Costa DS, et al. Common venues in romantic relationships of adults with symptoms of autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Front Psychiatry 2021; 12: 593150.

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