ADHD is most often talked about in the context of problems it can cause – related to distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. But new research is showing that the ADHD brain can be particularly effective at three types of cognition that form the basis of creative thinking: divergent thinking, conceptual expansion and overcoming knowledge constraints.
Holly White, a research scientist in the Psychology Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, describes how these three cognitive capabilities can make ADHD an asset in fields where innovation and creativity are paramount.
Divergent thinking – This capability allows the individual to think of many ideas from a single starting point. An example of this type of thinking might be finding new uses or features for an existing device.
Conceptual expansion – This capability allows us to loosen the boundaries of concepts. One example White highlights is the invention of the sewing needle. The basic design (eye on the blunt end for threading) is ancient in origin. In the early 1800s, inventor Balthasar Krems flipped that design upside-down to create the world’s first eye-pointed needle—which the sewing machine possible.
Overcoming knowledge constraints – We are often unconsciously bound by knowledge or concepts we are already familiar with. Breaking free of this constraint of prior knowledge can be very difficult. Many of the great discoveries in modern science – e.g., the heliocentric planetary model, general relativity and quantum theory – were the result of overcoming the constraints of existing knowledge and concepts.
Several research studies have confirmed that individuals with ADHD consistently outperform non-ADHD individuals in using these types of cognitive capabilities.
The research of White and other shows that while ADHD may create difficulties in many situations that require focused, sustained attention, it can provide an edge when it comes to creative, original thinking. In a world where innovation and creativity are more highly prized, the ADHD mind can be a valuable asset.
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