Is there really an “upside” to having attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder or ADHD? For people who are involved in creative work, the answer could be yes.
Parents have often reported that their children, diagnosed with ADHD, exhibit more creativity compared to their counterparts. Researchers have tried to examine this potential link and replicate results on various creative experiments. Now, a new study from the University of Michigan (UM) has also added to existing findings.
The paper titled “Thinking ‘Outside the Box’: Unconstrained Creative Generation in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” was published in the Journal of Creative Behavior on Sept. 30.
“Creative products of individuals with ADHD may be more innovative, relative to creations of non-ADHD peers,” said study author Holly White, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at UM.
The researchers recruited a group of college students, some with ADHD and some without, for two creative experiments. Since “creativity” is a rather broad term, the tests adopted a focus on originality. The first was a simple imagination task. They were asked to use their imagination and create a fictional fruit i.e. an “alien fruit” that could exist on another planet.
Here, students without ADHD tended to model their creations after the designs of common fruits, such as an apple. But those with ADHD were more likely to create fruits that were a lot more original, differing significantly compared to the typical fruits on Earth.
The second task involved with the creation of labels for new products in three categories. They were instructed to avoid copying the examples provided by the researchers beforehand. And once again, students with ADHD created more unique labels compared to those without ADHD. This means they may be less prone to “design fixation” which is a tendency of sticking to traditional, pre-existing designs.
“This has implications for creative design and problem-solving in the real world when the goal is to create or invent something new without being overly constrained by old models or ways of doing things,” White said.
Previous research has also suggested that ADHD patients face challenges in convergent thinking but excel in divergent thinking. While the former is more structured (for example, narrowing down multiple choices to arrive at one objectively right answer), the latter is more concerned with a more spontaneous thought process, often original and unexpected.
The disorder, which is often diagnosed during childhood, was estimated to affect 1 in 10 children in the United States in a recent report. While the rates are high compared to figures from previous decades, experts attribute to the rise in diagnoses to better awareness surrounding ADHD.