Flight of Ideas
A flight of ideas occurs when a person rapidly shifts between conversation topics, making his or her speech challenging or even impossible to follow.
What is Flight of Ideas?
A flight of ideas is so named because it seems like a person’s ideas are taking off in flight—seemingly all over the place. Someone experiencing idea flight often speaks very rapidly, jumping from topic to topic. The connections between his/her ideas are typically quite loose, and the rate of speech often increases. A person experiencing flight of ideas, for example, might deliver a 10-minute monologue during which he or she jumps from talking about childhood, to a favorite advertisement, to a moment of distorted body image, to political ideology, concluding with a rant about his or her favorite flower. It can be challenging for listeners to get a word in or to ask questions about the flight of ideas without prompting a new monologue from the speaker.
What Causes Flight of Ideas?
A person experiencing a flight of ideas may be extremely excited or anxious. Flight of ideas itself is not a mental health condition, but can be a symptom of one. People with bipolar who are experiencing mania may exhibit flight of ideas. Mania can feel like being sped up, and manic people may jump from idea to idea. Schizophrenia can also lead to a flight of ideas. Drugs that cause euphoria may also contribute to the symptom. Sometimes a person experiencing intense emotions—such as anxiety or joy—may experience a flight of ideas even if they have no underlying mental health condition.
How is Flight of Ideas Treated?
A person experiencing flight of ideas will typically have to be evaluated for other symptoms. If the symptom is caused by an underlying condition, then the focus of treatment will be on the underlying condition.
- Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2001). Abnormal psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley.
- Flight of ideas. (n.d.). Health.com. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20436786_11,00.html
- Purse, M. (n.d.). Flight of ideas. About.com Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from http://bipolar.about.com/od/maniahypomani1/g/gl_flightofidea.htm
Last Updated: 08-7-2015
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Kathy CMarch 8th, 2018 at 10:08 AM
Can flight of ideas be associated when th ADHD?
HildaApril 9th, 2019 at 6:38 AM
JoAnneMay 27th, 2019 at 11:32 AM
How can a person suggest to another or their spouse that this is how you experience this person. Giving up the friendship is not an option.
Norricia SSeptember 24th, 2019 at 9:56 AM
MtnGrlOctober 6th, 2019 at 3:45 PM
Very informative article, thank you. I have a friend who seems to fit this description. We’ve co-authored a few stories together, and we’ll be in the middle of one when she suddenly decides to abandon it and start something new. Also in the middle of a conversation she’ll suddenly jump to another topic. I never broached the subject with her because I think it may be a touchy one, but I have been curious about her behavior and this really helps me understand it.
BrianJuly 16th, 2020 at 9:18 PM
Great article and very thought provoking. However, the article seems to indicate that the flight of ideas is something negative, something that needs correction? In my experience, the reason that the subject jumps rapidly from idea to idea is because so many new ideas are coming into their mind in succession. The subject wants to capture each one by passing it on to the listener as quickly as possible before the next idea bursts forth. The idea process is so intense and uses so much of the mind’s capacity that the brain has a reduced capacity to memorise the idea simultaneously – hence the subjects anxiety, because they are aware of this fact. The subject, in such situations, should be encouraged to immediately write their ideas down, rather than discuss/describe the idea verbally as this will reduce the additional anxiety of simultaneously attempting to explain the idea to the listener.
Ideas are what got us here and real and original ideas are the most precious gift that humans can receive and give. Therefore, rather than ‘cured’, the flight of ideas phenomenon should be nurtured and encouraged in these gifted individuals and once understood by others, their real priceless worth will be obvious.
RobertSeptember 8th, 2020 at 12:51 PM
After 49 years on this planet I learned about this today. I’m guilty of this. I recall one guy in my 20’s telling me that I speak in shorthand. Amazing. This and pressures speech. Of course the question is now why do I do this?
MaxineDecember 29th, 2020 at 5:00 AM
Thanks Brian; very thoughtful and understanding statement. People are so judgmental. Thanks so much for seeing this through different eyes.
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