THURSDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- The distractibility and
impulsiveness that is the hallmark of attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have a silver lining, according
to a new study that suggests those with the disorder are more
creative than those without.
Researchers gave 60 college students, half with ADHD, a series
of tests measuring creativity across 10 domains -- drama, music,
humor, creative writing, invention, visual arts, scientific
discovery, dance, architecture and culinary arts. The students also
answered questions about their problem-solving styles, including
preferences for generating, structuring, refining and implementing
The ADHD group scored higher on creativity across the board, the
study authors said, and also exhibited a greater preference for
brainstorming and generating ideas than the non-ADHD group, which
preferred refining and clarifying ideas.
The study, a follow-up to one conducted in 2006, is published in
the April issue of
Personality and Individual Differences.
"Personality traits like stubbornness could be seen as a negative thing or it could be seen as a strength . . . and I think it's similar with distraction," said study author Holly A. White, an assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But it can also mean they're open to a lot of new ideas coming in. It allows for collisions of ideas we otherwise might not see."
ADHD, affecting approximately 5 percent of American youths, is a
neurobehavioral disorder characterized by inattentiveness,
hyperactivity, disorganization and difficulty focusing, among other
traits. The condition persists into adulthood in 30 percent to 50
percent of those affected.
The 60 University of Memphis students, whose average age was 20,
were split roughly equally between men and women. Half of the ADHD
group was taking stimulant medication to treat the condition at the
time of the research.
White said the new study confirms prior research indicating that
the lack of inhibition ADHD patients display translates into
out-of-the-box thinking. And contrary to perception, she added,
people with ADHD are often able to pay rapt attention to a subject
or activity if it's something they love.
"I really do believe while ADHD [defines] limitations in some areas, in others it can be a strength," White said.
"It's especially difficult for them to do something they don't enjoy, so they may be misidentified as lazy or unintelligent, which is not the case at all," White added. "When they're enthusiastic and motivated about something, the ADHD seems to disappear."
Armed with these findings, young people with ADHD might be
better able to seek careers suited to their strengths and
weaknesses, or to pursue fields that are intrinsically motivating,
where they would be most productive, the authors said.
But Richard Milich, a professor of clinical psychology at the
University of Kentucky, said the study may not represent typical
youths with ADHD because participants were only comprised of
"That means there's a whole group of ADHD kids who didn't go to college who would never be in this study," said Milich, who has studied the disorder for decades. "These are people in college, so they've already crossed the main hurdle."
He also pointed out that prior research indicates those with
ADHD tend to exaggerate their skill set, so the self-evaluations
used in this study may have skewed the results.
"It's very hard to measure this whole topic," Milich said. "The evidence is clear they have an inflated view of self-efficacy. I don't see how this translates to better achievement."
But White and Milich agreed that ADHD medication, which is
designed to dampen troublesome symptoms, may also dampen creativity
as a result.
"We want to find that line between being grounded and having their heads in the clouds," White said.
"Mental illness overlapping with inspiration is something I think has always been true," White added. "But it could be a creative advantage and potentially is a gift."
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about
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