Creativity and ADHD – is there a link?

creativity adhdIs it possible that the impulsiveness and quick-thinking that accompanies ADHD may also enhance creativity?  Given that many people who are diagnosed with this condition, what role could medication have in the creative process?  Does stimulant medication hamper creativity, or boost it?

The ADHD brain may not be held back as much by constraints on thinking. In a study conducted in 2006 (Abraham et al.), adolescents with varying disorders (including ADHD) along with a control group, were individually assessed.  The ADHD group was found to have a higher rate of being able to overcome constraining examples, what we call “thinking outside the box”, but had difficulty creating an invention from imagery.

In another study (White and Shah, 2006), people with ADHD were found to score higher than those without ADHD in a measure of divergent thinking (i.e. coming up with creative solutions to a problem).  However, people with ADHD did not score as well as those without ADHD on a measure of convergent thinking (i.e. giving the “correct” answer to a test question).

A later study also discovered that people with ADHD scored higher in original thinking and creative achievement than those without ADHD.  It was also found that people with ADHD preferred generating ideas, while those without ADHD preferred clarifying problems and developing ideas.

Contrary to popular opinion, (stimulant) medication may not hamper creativity. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, Farah et al. (2009) measured sixteen young adults on four measures of creativity.  Two of the measures required divergent thinking, while the other two required convergent thinking.  The study found that the medication did improve convergent thinking while no negative effects were found on convergent and divergent thought measures.

It is evident that more research is required, however it would appear that there is a direct correlation between ADHD and increased creativity. Given that ADHD is but one marker on a spectrum of so called ‘mental disorders’ it is obvious that much is still to be learnt.


Why Brainstorming Is BAD

No, BAD is not an acronym. I simply hate brainstorming and try to avoid it wherever possible. This stems from an introduction (many years ago) to the type of brainstorming that we all hate – sitting round a table with a pile of Post-It notes being told by the boss to come up with ideas. I objected because we never got anywhere and a great deal of time was wasted. I firmly believe that Brainstorming is bad.

Some people do, however, use brainstorming and have some success. There are a significant number of people who do not. Why is this?

Simples, as a well known Meerkat might say (apologies if you live outside the UK). Creative problem solving is a series of phases which alternate in using convergent and divergent thinking (focusing on one thing or generating many options). If you wish to generate ideas you need to know the objective. What are you generating ideas for and is it really the right thing to be doing? This is convergent thinking and needs to be done and there are even creative techniques for this part of the process.

Next comes a divergent phase to generate options. This is where brainstorming comes in. All techniques can be categorised according to whether they are convergent/divergent, group/solo etc so it is essential to use the correct type of technique in corresponding phase. So use brainstorming for divergence – it is a divergent technique. And this is where those who tried to get me started went terribly wrong.

We sat round a table using a divergent technique to ‘solve a problem’ without working out exactly what the problem was. The only way this would have worked is by pure luck (and we never got lucky). There are other issues of course regarding environment, group make up etc but if you use the wrong tool for the job it is not going to work no matter how hard you try.

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