Creativity Takes Courage: The Originality of the ADHD Mind

Research suggests that people with ADHD perform better than those without ADHD in tasks requiring creativity and originality.

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Mar 21, 2019

Tiimo member

March 21, 2019
Charlotte Egeskov
Content Manager

There are two sides to the picture above.
Can you tell which side that have been drawn by people with ADHD and which side that have been drawn by people without ADHD?

ADHD and creativity

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is usually described by the problems of the symptoms it represents. ADHD is known as a neurological condition, with symptoms of attention deficit or distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Symptoms all of which may indeed present obstacles and have negative consequences for academic achievement, employment performance, and social relationships.

However, it is important to distinguish the narrow minded view of the ADHD symptoms. People with ADHD actually have very good - to almost extreme attention spans - but only for subjects they find interestring. This is an important distinction to consider, as people with ADHD also tend to resist conformity and ignore common information.

The ability to focus and concentrate, which the ADHD mind in general struggle with, is believed to be very beneficial attributes but research show that they actually can hamper creativity. Therefore ADHD may bring advantages like the ability to think more creatively and with more originality. This has lead scientists to wondered whether or not people with attention deficit, especially those with ADHD, have a creative advantage in regards to thinking outside the box (1).

Chaotic minds, as the scientist, Holly White, refers to minds with ADHD, are particularly good at thinking creatively and original while breaking free from prior examples, as can be seen from the picture above. White recruited 26 male and female undergraduates diagnosed with ADHD and 26 male and female undergraduates without ADHD and had them complete two tests of creativity (1).

Creativity test

The first task was a test of the students' imagination and creativity. The students spend 20 minutes drawing and describing pictures of alien fruit that had to be as unusual and creative as they could imagine, all the while trying not to duplicate already existing fruit from earth. Some of their efforts can be seen above: the right-hand side is made by students without ADHD and the left-hand side is made by people with an ADHD diagnosis. Afterwards, two judges, unaware of the ADHD status of each student carefully rated all the drawings and descriptions. The conclusion was that drawings by the undergraduates with ADHD were rated as more original and had more atypical attributes. Attributing minds with ADHD as having greater "conceptual expansion” according to White, which is a process “whereby traditional conceptual boundaries are extended”(1).

The second task was designed to test the undergrads' ability to think outside the box without having prior influence their imaginations. The students were told to come up with new and original product names within three product categories; pain relievers, nuclear elements and pasta. White presented the students with names of six examples for each of the three categories, with certain lettering in common. The examples of pain medication ended on “ol” or “in”, like Tylenol, Panadol, Aspirin and Bufferin. While the nuclear elements always ended in "-on" or "-ium", like plutonium, uranium and radon. The pasta always ended in "-i" or "-a", like tortellini, ravioli and lasagna. The students had 10 minutes to invent new product names for each category, while not copying any of the prior given examples. The judges rated the new product names to whether the names sounded appropriate to the products the represented and that the hadnøt copied the endings of the examples. Again while not knowing the ADHD-status of the students. The results concluded that students with ADHD were more original and better at breaking free from conventional thinking (1).

Creativity is many things. Google dictionary describes creativity as "the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness".

Thought, most definitions of creativity comprise of three components. First, an idea must represent something original, different, like or a change from tradition, new, or innovative. Second, an idea must be of high quality - even though the value of creativity to the creator and recipients may differ. Third, an idea must also be appropriate for the task at hand and must either be a solution to a problem or counterpart to the present. A creative response is often judged by its newness, adequacy, and relevance (2).

Thinking "outside the box"

The results of the study concluded that students with ADHD may be less constrained by old models, conventions or knowledge during creative generation.

The "outside the box" original thinking that people with ADHD demonstrate may give them a cutting edge advantage in the creative or innovative work fields.
Though this study is small and further investigation on the subject is needed. Moreover, it is important not to belittle the problems that both people with ADHD and the people caring for them face on a daily basis. Additionally, this study was done with high-functioning undergraduates without any other additional diagnosis.

ADHD may create difficulties for the individual in many contexts that requires focus, constraint and attention - like in school setting where the individuals are expected to sit still and pay attention. Yet it is this same distractibility and chaotic mind that contribute to creative, original thinking.
White furthermore believes that “by leveraging ADHD-related strengths and providing the necessary structure and support, individuals and organisations alike may be able to unlock the imaginative and innovative potential of the ADHD mind” (1). Perhaps not the best cloth from which to tailor an engineer, but these traits may be solid assets in fields that value innovative and nontraditional approaches, such as marketing, product design, technology, and computer engineering, White explains (1).


  1. White, H. A. (2018). Thinking “Outside the Box”: Unconstrained Creative Generation in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jocb.382.

  2. Kaufman, J. C., & Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Creativity. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 39(4), 55-60.

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