“people with ADHD have an overactive imagination as opposed to a learning disability”

The Takeaway with John Hockenberry has a brief piece on Scott Barry Kaufmann’s work on the neurological evidence that the same parts of the brain that are most active during creative work are more active in kids with ADHD:

[The brains of] people diagnosed with ADHD and people who we consider to be creative thinkers are actually extremely similar.

The brain’s default mode network, which controls cognitive processes like perspective taking, daydreaming, and mind wandering, is most active when our mind is resting. And when examining FMRI studies, Kaufman says that this part of the brain is more active in people diagnosed with ADHD.

“I refer to it as the imagination brain network because I think that’s what it really is,” he says. “The latest research shows that the imagination brain network is highly conducive to creativity and creative thought. And those who are diagnosed with ADHD seem to have greater difficulty than those who are not diagnosed with ADHD in suppressing activity in this imagination brain network. In a way, you can actually conceptualize that people with ADHD have an overactive imagination as opposed to a learning disability.”

John Ratey in his great book Spark also talks about how ADHD is misunderstood, and I think there’s not quite a consensus, but at least a strong argument that part of what we diagnose as a malady is— at least in its milder forms— actually something else.

This is an argument that Kaufmann has been developing for a while. Earlier this month he wrote that research

has supported the notion that people with ADHD are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement than those without ADHD…. What’s more, recent research by Darya Zabelina and colleagues have found that real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a “leaky” mental filter– something in which people with ADHD excel.

Recent work in cognitive neuroscience also suggests a connection between ADHD and creativity (see here and here). Both creative thinkers and people with ADHD show difficulty suppressing brain activity coming from the “Imagination Network“ [what we usually call the default network].

The problem, as Kaufmann points out, is that in most schools kids who are diagnosed with ADHD get shut out of AP and honors classes, even when their cognitive capacity— as shown in tests of fluid reasoning, for example— was high.

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