ADHD and Creativity: A Double-Edged Study?
by Rick Green
Another ADHD myth exposed to the glare of scientific study! Only this time, research confirms what many have long maintained. People with ADHD are more creative.
Holly A. White from the University of Memphis and Priti Shah of the University of Michigan published an ADHD and creativity study this month showing, "adults with ADHD showed higher levels of original creative thinking … and higher levels of real-world creative achievement, compared to adults without ADHD.” They also found that faced with a problem, most people prefer to study the problem or refine ideas, whereas we ADHDers prefer to generate new ideas … brainstorming (what most people call daydreaming!)
I had always suspected some of us were more creative! An informal survey of friends in the entertainment industry reveals at least a third and maybe half qualify as ADHD. In our documentary about Adult ADHD, ADD & Loving It?!, actor Patrick McKenna shares how he became an improv comedian. His drama teacher took him to see Second City’s stage show and Patrick was thunderstruck, mesmerized by the comedians making people laugh using suggestions audience members shouted out. He felt the energy in the room and knew he’d found his calling.
While most people’s biggest fear is public speaking, Patrick couldn’t wait to get onstage. Could not wait. Imagine that. When non-ADHDers can’t understand why we struggle with simple tasks, I ask them how they’d feel doing Improv Comedy onstage. When they get present to the fear and anxiety, I say, "That’s how I feel if I have to do my taxes.”
But this new study is a double-edged sword. For ADHDers struggling with finances, relationships and work, it’s a relief to hear about the positive side to a mind that flutters out of control. For ADHDers with some mastery over their symptoms, it confirms that a mind that doesn’t filter incoming signals as well as most people’s can be an asset in certain situations. However, for ADHDers who are not creative, this could be taken as yet another failure, as in, "Wow, I can’t even do ADHD right!”
The other reason for caution is that studies and statistics are tricky. When a study indicates that people with ADHD score higher on average on creativity tests, a news reporter, who majored in English instead of Stats, might blithely report, "Well folks, it appears that if you have ADHD, you’re more creative than the rest of us.” Woah! Not so fast.
The study simply suggests ADHDers are, on average, more creative. That doesn’t mean non-ADHDers are not creative, or that all ADHDers are! To use a simple example, on average, women live longer than men. Yet George Burns lived to be 101, while his wife, Gracie Allen, died at 69. George and Gracie weren’t even ‘exceptions to the rule.’ There is no ‘rule’ that men have to die younger. George and Gracie just weren’t average.
The study suggests lots of other questions: How big is the difference? Again, using the earlier example, what if women only lived two weeks longer, on average, than men? Not a significant advantage. ADHDers have higher levels of creative achievement on average. But how much? And how did they measure creativity?
What types of creativity are there? The co-authors of the study address many of these questions in their scientific paper, but the bigger question is what does it mean for you and me, as ADHDers, or as people who live and/or work with ADHDers? It’s a question we each must answer. With as much creativity as we can!
And now, hmm, I’m wondering – does being more creative help overcome the challenges of ADHD? Judging from the humour and imagination I see on the Forums at TotallyADD.com, it sure looks like it does. At the very least, I’ve always found that creativity helps when you need an excuse or an apology! Maybe you can relate!
Rick Green, a Canadian writer/actor, is the creative force behind www.TotallyADD.com. Rick shares hilarious observations about ADHD to liberate fellow ADHDers from the fear, shame and stigma. ADD & Loving It?! is the award-winning documentary recommended by CHADD and ADDA now appearing on many PBS stations. Check local listings.