Research has suggested that those with ADHD may be more creative than those without ADHD; however, the underlying mechanisms are unclear. This study evaluated factors potentially affecting creativity in adults with ADHD via two separate studies. Overall, the objectives of the studies were as follows:
- Study 1: to replicate published findings that adults with ADHD report a greater number of creative achievements compared with adults without ADHD; to determine whether performance in initial problem reconstruction and subsequent idea generation is different in adults with ADHD compared with adults without ADHD; to assess the role of intrinsic motivation in generating creative ideas; and to investigate the effects of ADHD medication on creative performance in adults with ADHD.
- Study 2: to further investigate the role of motivation in the creative achievements of adults with ADHD; and to determine whether adults with ADHD are more creative in specific domains compared with adults without ADHD.
In Study 1, an online study, 71 participants with ADHD (medicated ADHD group: n=42; non-medicated ADHD group: n=29) were recruited through a local institution specialising in ADHD treatment, in addition to 36 age-, gender- and education-matched controls. The Creative Achievement Questionnaire was used to assess participants’ creative achievements in 10 domains, e.g. creative writing and theatre; participants were presented with eight rank-ordered statements per domain and were asked to indicate which statements related to them.* Divergent thinking was measured using the Alternate Uses Task (AUT), which assessed participants’ ability to generate new, original ideas that were scored in terms of fluency, flexibility and originality.† Intrinsic motivation was measured via four questions.‡ Problem construction was assessed by measuring participants’ ability to restructure complex, ill-defined problems using a problem construction task, whereby they were asked to redefine the problem in terms of: 1) diagnostic information; 2) alternative goals; 3) alternative procedures; and 4) constraints.
In Study 2, 46 participants with ADHD and 44 without ADHD were recruited from campus at the University of Amsterdam. Divergent thinking was measured in a similar manner as in Study 1; however, an element of competition was introduced, with a monetary prize available for the most original idea.§ The Kaufman Domains of Creativity Scale (K-DOCS), which consists of 50 items assessing creativity in five domains, e.g. mechanical/scientific and scholarly, was then used to measure participants’ self-perceived creative abilities.||
The results of Study 1 indicated that:
- Adults with ADHD reported more creative achievements compared with those without ADHD (t=3.47, p=0.001, d=0.71); however, reporting of creative achievements did not differ between the medicated and non-medicated ADHD groups (t=1.14, p=0.257, d=0.25).
- Positive correlations existed between: ADHD symptoms and creative achievements (0.22, p<0.05); AUT fluency and AUT flexibility (0.88, p<0.01); creative achievements and AUT originality (0.19, p<0.05); and creative achievements and problem originality (0.21, p<0.05). All other correlations were negative or not significant.
- A positive correlation existed between intrinsic motivation and AUT originality (0.40, p<0.01). Correlations with AUT fluency and flexibility were not significant.
- No differences were observed in motivation ratings between the adults with (medicated and non-medicated) and without ADHD (F(2, 104)=0.02, p=0.977).
The results of Study 2 indicated that:
- Positive correlations existed between: ADHD symptoms and AUT originality (0.28, p<0.01); ADHD symptoms and K-DOCS domains (mechanical/scientific: 0.33, p<0.01; artistic: 0.26, p<0.05; performance: 0.34, p<0.01); and AUT flexibility (0.90, p<0.01).
- During the AUT, participants were more motivated when competing compared with when not competing (F[1, 88]=7.51, p=0.007).
- Motivational ratings did not differ between adults with and without ADHD (Fs<2.45, ps>0.121).
- Competition had a significant effect on original ideas (F[1, 87]=12.89, p=0.001), and adults with ADHD were more original within a competitive environment compared with adults without ADHD (F[1, 87]=12.24, p=0.001 vs F[1, 87]=0.10, p=0.749).
- K-DOCS scores differed significantly between adults with and without ADHD (F[5, 84]=3.80, p=0.006).
Limitations of the study were: 1) domain-specific creativity results were based on self-reported abilities rather than actual creative performance, which may not always be accurate; and 2) the study population consisted of mainly university students, limiting the generalisability of the results.
The authors concluded that goal-directed motivation may enhance the creative achievements of adults with ADHD. Moreover, this enhancement appeared to occur in specific domains, indicating that adults with ADHD may excel when performing tasks amenable to their abilities.
Read more about creativity in ADHD here
*The eight statements ranged from 0 (“I have no training or recognised talent in this area”) to 7 (“I have won a national prize in this area”)
†To assess divergent thinking in Study 1, investigators asked participants to generate new ways to use a fork and a newspaper in two separate 2-minute trials
‡After each trial in the AUT, participants rated their motivation to perform well during the trial in response to a number of statements, e.g. “I enjoyed generating new uses for a newspaper/fork”; 1 = I do not agree at all to 5 = I completely agree
§To assess divergent thinking in Study 2, investigators asked participants to generate new ways to use a belt, a book, a tin can and a towel in four 1-minute trials
||Participants indicated their self-perceived creativity by comparing themselves with others (1 = much less creative to 5 = much more creative) across 50 items in five creativity domains (self-everyday, scholarly, performance, mechanical/scientific and artistic)
Boot N, Nevicka B, Baas M. Creativity in ADHD: goal-directed motivation and domain specificity. J Atten Disord 2017; Epub ahead of print.