I have always been really creative since I was a child. As far back as I can remember (around 4 or 5), I remember winning a competition in primary school for building a stable structure that could withstand various tests – being crushed, floating etc. I remember being able to draw things accurately from memory and creating shoe box houses for my dolls. Creativity was just an aspect of the many interests that I had – from space exploration, building a colony on mars through to horses.
So is being creative an ADHD thing? It seems it could be. The recipe for creative thinking (or creative cognition) is conceptual expansion and innovative thinking. So let’s break those down into plain English. Conceptual expansion refers to what we colloquially call ‘out of the box’ thinking where we are able to think outside of predefined conceptual boundaries. Innovative thinking is the ability to create something new outside of traditional thought patterns. So why might the ADHD brain be better equipped for creativity compared with our neurotypical counterparts?
First of all, the lack of inhibition leading to divergent thinking seen in individuals with ADHD could be a major contributing factor.1 Inattention, or more accurately ‘diffuse’ attention (paying attention to everything and being unable to focus on one thing at a time) can lead to original and imaginative problem-solving abilities. Research suggests that people with ADHD may be able to think outside of the box (creative expansion). Existing models or ideas can typically limit creativity, but in studies where individuals with ADHD were asked to design an alien fruit or a new toy, the ADHD participants were statistically more likely to conceive of things that included fewer elements of the model examples provided.2,3
People with inattentive or combined ADHD can often be found daydreaming. Intuitively we can probably all point to an instance where a spontaneous idea has come to us during a period of rest or in the middle of the night, but does daydreaming actually make us more creative? Research has been mixed on whether daydreaming translates into increased creativity, however, what we daydream about may actually be what predicts creativity.4
As someone with ADHD I can attest to challenging the status quo at work and coming up with unique and often more logical solutions to problems. What about you?
- Holly A. White, Priti Shah. Uninhibited imaginations: Creativity in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Personality and Individual Differences. 2006;40:6: 1121-31.
- White, H.A. Thinking “Outside the Box”: Unconstrained Creative Generation in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. J Creat Behav. 2020;54:472-483. https://doi.org/10.1002/jocb.382
- Anna Abraham, et al. Creative Thinking in Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Child Neuropsychology. 2006;12:2:111-123. https://doi.org/10.1080/09297040500320691
- Zedelius, C. M., et al. What types of daydreaming predict creativity? Laboratory and experience sampling evidence. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. 2021;15(4), 596–611. https://doi.org/10.1037/aca0000342