March 15, 2011 -- An attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis can make many aspects of learning more challenging for children and teens, but some adults with ADHD show signs of enhanced creativity, a study suggests.
ADHD is a behavioral disorder characterized by difficulty focusing, impulsive behaviors, and hyperactivity.
A study of 60 undergraduate students at the University of Memphis found that those with ADHD enjoyed more creative achievement then students without ADHD. College students with ADHD scored better on a series of tests that measured creativity in 10 areas, including drama, humor, music, visual arts, creative writing, invention, and scientific discovery.
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences.
“In addition to limitations, ADHD really provides a potential advantage is terms of creative thinking,” says study researcher Holly A. White, an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. “While distraction can be a limitation in a traditional learning environment or workplaces with structured approaches, people with ADHD can be very innovative and generate useful and novel ideas.”
People with ADHD can take an idea and branch it out in lots of different directions, she says. By contrast, people without ADHD take a lot of ideas and pull them into central focus.
Job Options for People With ADHD
So what type of occupations may be best suited for someone with ADHD based on the findings?
“Anything that essentially gives someone a lot of variety and ability to move around,” White says. “They may thrive is sales type positions, as an entrepreneur, or doing anything that allows them to move around, talk to a lot of people, and think outside the box.”
The new findings held regardless of whether those with ADHD were taking medication to control their symptoms. But the new study was not designed to look for such differences.
“It is possible that there may be some trade-off with respect to creativity if medications improve focus,” she says.
Other Conditions Complicate ADHD
Jon Shaw, MD, a professor of psychiatry of the University of Miami School of Medicine, reviewed the new study findings for WebMD.
“There are serious limitations in terms of how generalizable these findings are for the majority of people with ADHD,” he says.
For starters, two-thirds of people with ADHD have co-existing disorders such as anxiety, depression, conduct disorder or bipolar disorder. The study sample did not reflect the high rate of co-existing conditions among people with ADHD and that many people with ADHD don’t make it to college. “The fact that they [study participants] got into college and had such a low rate of co-existing disorders means we can’t generalize to the larger population of ADHD,” Shaw says.
But “we know there is a high correlation between ADHD and bipolar disorder, and people with bipolar disorder can be highly creative, so this may be an interesting venue for further research,” he says.