Are you often distracted? Or do you have a hard time trying to focus your attention on something you’re really not interested in? That awkward moment when you want to stay focused but you just can’t stop thinking out loud. If you’ve (not) diagnosed yourself of any of these symptoms, then, you might have some form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); it might seem like an odd trait, but there’s some good news: It could make you more creative than somebody without it.
Related media: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
How Do I ADD ‘Em Up?
First, let’s debunk a few misconceptions: Being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHD doesn’t really mean you’re crazy like “nuts.” In actual fact, one of the disorder’s symptoms is known as hyperfocus; this means a person having the disorder becomes intensely focused on a particular task or item that interests them — so much so that they usually can’t divide their attention to anything else.
Surprisingly, that’s why maybe a few artists — the likes of Solange Knowles and Emma Watson — though they’ve been diagnosed with the disorder, yet have made quite a successful career. Mastering a craft takes undivided attention and focusing, and somewhat surprisingly, people with ADD and ADHD seem to take that advantage.
However, according to a 2018 study, people living with an attention deficit disorder may have an advantage over neuro-typical people. Their ability to have undivided attention might be related to their ability to come up with unconventional ideas. In efforts to test such a hypothesis, a psychological researcher named Holly White at the University of Michigan recruited 52 college students as participants, 26 of the participants had been diagnosed with high-functioning ADHD, and the other 26 hadn’t. For the study, two tests were devised to challenge their abilities to flex their creative muscles.
One, Buckle My Thoughts
Just as the participants, the study had two phases. In the first phase, the participants were asked to sketch a piece of fruit or vegetable from an extraterrestrial planet, and were specifically asked not to intentionally copy any — presumably an Earth-bound fruit — that they were already aware of. They were later asked to add additional descriptions of such a fruit, including features like taste, color, texture, parts of the fruit, and virtually anything else they would like to add into more detail.
Then, two research assistants — who were not only having no idea that the participants were having ADHD, but also the entire test results will be based upon their conditions — were assigned to grade the sketches and descriptions based upon the atypicality of their appearance (considering Earth fruit and vegetables as the standard), as well as the atypicality of their description.
For instance, an extraterrestrial fruit with leaves and seeds that tastes juicy and sweet might seem different, but it still ranks pretty high on the typicality of it’s features. The fruits and vegetables that the ADHD students created, however, displayed features like straws, eyeballs, or a tendency to explode. Bizarre!
Two, ADD ‘Em Up
In the second phase of the experiment, White wanted to learn how creative the participants could be when faced with a certain frame of guidelines. Sounds tough already. This phase was the product brainstorming session. Here, each of the two groups — both ADHD and neuro-typical students — were given six examples in three different categories: types of pasta, nuclear elements, and pain medication. They were later asked to invent a few of their own entries in each category.
However, there’s a small catch none of the participants were explicitly told about. It seemed like each of the examples that they were shown earlier had a particular pattern: The types of pasta all ended in “-i” or “-a” (like “spaghetti” or “lasagna”), the elements all ended in “-on” or “-ium” (like “carbon” and “helium”), and the pain medication all ended in “-in” or “-ol” (like “Aspirin” or “Tylenol”).
So What Does ADHD Even Do?
The whole objective of the test was to pin point how simple the students made-up items that both didn’t follow the patterns set out in the examples, and were recognizable as examples of their respective categories. For instance, “Pastanoodlini” sounds more like pasta and noodles than “Ziggahullabaloo.” Impressive!
Yet again, they were graded by research assistants who had no idea about the nature the test or the participants conditions. In the long run, the ADD and ADHD participators won the contest against the neuro-typical participators — once again breaking the odds suggested by the examples given. What was even more impressive was that they did so with no significant difference in the recognizability of their answers.
The takeaway? ADD and ADHD can pose significant challenges to those that live with the conditions. But they can also give you an edge — if you’re willing to think outside the box.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Mar 19, 2019.