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.
KarenAugust 28th, 2021 at 4:35 PM
Yes thank you Brian. I am a (successful) creative person and I often have a multitude of ideas. It does throw other people off sometimes.
Your insight and support are much appreciated.
DavidSeptember 7th, 2021 at 2:54 PM
I was searching for why I’m able to jump the working out stages in my mind and skip to the answer but not like a person who is gifted to always being right, I’m quite successful in these moments but I’m not superhuman or even gifted in this area to my knowledge… but when people talk and because of my 36yrs of seeing almost every kind of person and being acutely aware at all times as a adult… I’m seem to be able to get the point/ skip the explanation/ or even know what is about to be said before it’s said because of information taken in from every conceivable angle previous to my realisation before an expected time, it’s not only this but I’m wondering why I process the info so fast I seem to skip the inbetween parts to a awful lot of life’s moments? Sometimes I think I’m gifted, sometimes I think I just have paid attention enough coupled with previous experiences combined to produce a enlightened guesstimate close to correct or actually correct, it frustrates me I have to wait for others to catch up and I really wish there was a job I could find that suited this mental state or mental thought processing, I’m currently a construction worker and I feel like I could be more than a labouring dogsbody too long in the job! 🤔
ShimiSeptember 26th, 2021 at 11:05 PM
Yesterday i spoke to someone about something. This person found it difficult to keep up with my changing/switching topics in my conversation. So this person did not get the meaning out of this conversation. I thought the conversation sounded logical in my head. But it did not to her
(I think its the problem of explanation. Either it difficult to explain or you don’t want to.)
I found myself on flight of ideas. Without giving time for another person to understand. Which i could Have done if i had stuck to one topic and explained it properly.
TarienFebruary 26th, 2022 at 1:20 AM
Yay thank you Brian you just made my day most people just switch off when i speak by now cause they say i speak to much and never get to the point when infact i have made quite a few some relevent to where i may have started and others not so relevant to others but the dots all add up in my mind haha I call it senceless sence
MargaretMarch 30th, 2022 at 1:22 AM
I believe that this is the mind of a busy bee. I was always a multi tasker,that being said, the power of free association comes into play. Some words can infact create another idea, the mind wants to follow, this is were self observation steps in and tells you to stay on point when speaking to another person,so you are constantly checking to make it clear that the other person is following your train of thought, because now you may be obligated to reiterate what you just spoke. It may be wise to speak with people that understand what form of communication that your speaking, ie..for example terminology in the same field. Terminology with like Terminology should reduce confusion in what one is trying to say. So if your in a bakery, you don’t talk rocket science. I guess what I’m trying to say is that one should know the person that they are talking to, as well as know the others limitations. I really don’t speak to my husband about medicine,just because he doesn’t understand medical Terminology. I would have to spend the rest of the day explaining my words. Quite frankly he really doesn’t want to know. So ideally one know with whom you share your pearls of wisdom with at the beginning. The idea is not to flounder with a barrage of your minds memories and the free association that comes with your previous experiences.
ColleenJune 7th, 2022 at 8:56 PM
Thank you so much for this,I now know there is a name for this,my mother used to do it so I though that’s where I got it from,now I know it has a name & its a real thing I can be more aware,also when I am reading a notice I seem to be just going to the end & hope I get time to read the beginning,I think this is a problem but maybe it is part of the same flight of ideas.
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