ADHD: Could It Be an Evolutionary Advantage?

February 21, 2024
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ADHD: Could It Be an Evolutionary Advantage?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the mental health diagnosis which often carries the most attention in our recent times. As most are aware this condition is associated with challenges in focus, hyperactivity and sometimes impulsivity. However, recently there is a debated theory that proposes a different approach: ADHD traits or symptoms may be part of our survival in the past. How the neurodiverse traits present in our modern world?

Beyond the four letters or label: The Survival Harmony:

Imagine life approximately 20 000 years ago, where we are not aware of any borders or maps, and the risk is just around the corner. There is no weather forecast, no central heating and the light is mostly available from our sun and other stars. In this environment only the fittest survive. Every moment counts, being ready to find a solution at the last minute is considered to be an asset. Staying calm in one place, could be challenging due to food becoming quickly depleted. Imagine constant travelling in finding opportunities: sprawling landscapes in the search for food, water, warmth and shelter. Ultimately traveling for finding opportunity. Modern clothes and multi layers, think twice to face the cold and humid weather you almost need to be always on the go, doing something.

Every single day would be different, food may not be available daily and having the nutrition for survival is a hit or miss. Taking the risk in securing the next meal could be seen only as a gamble in today’s society. Getting in trouble, and not being able to plan for the next day could be seen as the norm in ancient times. 

Humans gathering around the fire for safety and survival during the night

Getting easily distracted: Sharpened Senses

In the unpredictable environment, the ability to focus on potential threats or rapidly shift attention to new opportunities could be a gift. It meant the difference between finding the next meal or extention. Let’s imagine “a normal day” where wolves, bears, lions and other apex predators are ruling the word.  In your tribe you are the first hearing the noise, and suddenly reacting to it. Being the first person to acknowledge and react, gives the precious extra seconds to run and hopefully live another day. 

A female lion making her presence known to others, highlighting the importance of having sharp senses.

Boredom: Innovation and Exploration Factory

The restless curiosity and impulsivity often seen in ADHD could have driven the greatest explorers to new land and opportunities. Be it discovering food sources, having a rich imagination helps in building innovative tools. The ability to constantly adapt is something that is often discussed in the business world. However, this could've been an ingrained factor in the old world, in navigating changing environments and overcoming challenges. 

A female exploring the underworld emerging after a deep dive, searching for light

Impulsivity: Tool for social conflict resolution

At the beginning ADHD was recognised by others, by acknowledging the hyperactive external symptoms. However, the high energy and intensity associated with ADHD could have helped in maintaining the strong bond within the tribe. In a world, where we could function as long as there was light outside, and the danger was everywhere. Impulsivity could even help in resolving conflicts quickly, in particular where a prompt action was needed. 

The Modern Mismatch: Untapped potential:

Although we may have limited evidence that such traits were advantageous in our ancestral past, the rapid evolution in our modern world could create a mismatch. Having a structured work environment, a sedentary lifestyle may often clash with the agile ADHD minds: always on the go, keen for exploration, completing tasks on the last minute, getting easily distracted or not maintaining prolonged focus. 

During education, the school reports would mention about excelling in areas where they enjoyed the subject or connecting well with the teacher. But in the less stimulating subjects, keep hearing the phrase “always had the potential to do better”.

An image illustrating the busy city of London with multiple stimuli and distractions

It’s all about the right environment

In the optimal environment, individuals with ADHD can excel in fields requiring creativity, innovation, competition or quick thinking. High net worth entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, and those in fast-paced industries often thrive on the very traits that present challenges in “normal settings.” People having heightened senses may excelled in the past in hunting for food, and perhaps found it difficult to plan ahead when farming originated 12 000 years ago.

Beyond Evolution: A Broader Perspective on ADHD:

It's very important to understand that the evolutionary or hunter-gatherer theory is just a piece of the puzzle. The cause and origins of ADHD are complex and likely multifactorial. We also have other theories focusing on genetics, environmental factors, nutrition and individual differences. One unknown territory is the role of technology in ADHD, and how its power could one day help individuals with ADHD. 

Regardless of its history or origin, it's vital to avoid minimising the significant challenges faced by individuals with the condition. They are a group of people having a higher risk of developing co-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or have a higher risk of attempted suicide. Some studies also indicate a link between ADHD and the increased risk of developing cardiovascular conditions and physical injuries. 

multiple light bulbs suggesting the multifactorial cause of ADHD and need of a broader perspective

Evolutionary Insights: Building for The Future:

Understanding the potential root cause of ADHD can offer new perspectives on the complexities of neurodevelopmental conditions. Beyond the typical treatment option, understand and develop:

Support systems: tailored to utilise the individual’s strengths, such as using creativity, problem solving solutions, flexible work arrangements, importance of time spent in nature. Reshaping the office space with nature's environment. 

Educational adaptations: Finding methods to cater to the unique learning styles, utilise the strengths of individuals with ADHD. Optimising the best time of the day for a particular task, and finding the right delivery method, be it audio books or infographics.

Workplace Accommodations: Creating office space that enhances the natural creativity and problem-solving power of individuals with ADHD. Utilising soundproofing materials passive and active noise cancellation may improve the productivity of employees having a neurodivergent background. Providing a dedicated low-stimuli private place can be used as a reset for some feeling stressed or hyper stimulated.

Flexibility: Long are the days when everyone used to dress the same or do things in a particular order. In today’s modern world, it is essential to have variety. Social media platforms such as TikTok are grabbing attention worldwide, perhaps we can learn something out of it. 

Imagine having the choice to set your work environment depending on your mood, or the way you feel. Some gamers prefer to utilise RGB lighting to personalise their experience whilst playing video games. Modern cars have ambient lighting, which can change depending on the mood, personal preference or style of driving. Beyond visual experience some report listening to a particular sound colour such as brown noise or white noise and described this as a calming experience, improved concentration or better sleep.

Beyond the news: Further research is needed:

This blog post is just a starting point to think about ADHD from a different perspective. But here are a few key takeaways:

The evolutionary perspective on ADHD is a complex topic and it currently has various interpretations. 

The journey of innovation and research in ADHD shouldn’t minimise the challenges of people suffering with this condition. 

Exploring the benefits and challenges associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can guide developing better support systems and understanding.

Further reading:

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Attention deficits linked with proclivity to explore while foraging | Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (

Dr. Stefan Ivantu, ADHD Specialist On How To Design Office Spaces That People Love To Work In | by Authority Magazine Editorial Staff | Authority Magazine | Medium

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases: a nationwide population-based cohort study - PubMed (

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and risk of injuries: A systematic review and meta-analysis - PMC (

Genomic analysis of the natural history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder using Neanderthal and ancient Homo sapiens samples - PMC (

The Development of Agriculture (

Pictures source Free Stock Photos, Royalty Free Stock Images & Copyright Free Pictures · Pexels

Disclaimer: The information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, and information, contained in this article is for general information purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional. Information about mental health topics and treatments can change rapidly and we cannot guarantee the content's currentness. For the most up-to-date information, please consult your doctor or qualified healthcare professional. For more information, you can check the Royal College of Psychiatrists (

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