ADHD, and it’s related-disorder, ADD exist in a haze of
stigma, misunderstanding and over-diagnosis. Most importantly, though, is the
way that these highly prevalent conditions are viewed as an “excuse” for poorly
performing children and, increasingly, adults.
However, what if ADHD had a benefit? What if ADHD actually
made you cleverer?
This is a question that has been posed a number of times,
with academics pointing to the sky-high activity levels in the brain of an ADHD
sufferer as evidence that these minds are extremely powerful, but unfortunately
it’s extremely difficult to focus these minds and thus harness their potential.
Read: Do you have ADHD?
In an effort to find clarity on the matter, Dr. Thomas E.
Brown, assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Yale, conducted a study of
157 adults diagnosed with ADHD. In his findings he noted that all had
significant impairments in their working memory and processing speed.
memory is the part of the brain that could be said to comprise a person’s
attention, or focus, something is clearly impaired in a true ADD/ADHD sufferer.
Processing speed in these individuals is substantially reduced to their
inability to focus on a task until completion, often getting distracted
However, Brown’s study also found that the mean IQ for the
participants was over 120, putting them in the top 9% of the population. The average person’s IQ is 100. Other evidence
has shown that up to 25% of ADHD sufferers may have IQ’s of 130 or over,
classifying them as intellectually gifted, a much higher proportion than in the
However, it appears that while ADHD sufferers might enjoy
higher IQ’s, they struggle to translate this into real world advantages. In
fact, smarter people with ADHD actually have greater impairments than less
intelligent ones. True ADHD is known to impair the executive functioning
aspects of the brain, commonly impairing abilities like forward planning,
decision making and impulse control; high IQ and ADHD often combine to
exaggerate these impairments, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Read: Side effects of ADHD medication
One of the main problems with determining the effects of
ADHD on intelligence is that the neural basis of intelligence is largely unknown.
The closest scientists have come to determining which areas of the brain are
responsible for intelligence is a focus on the strength of the connections
between the left prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain. The prefrontal
cortex is one of the most developed areas of the brain and is responsible for
many higher functions.
Recent studies have shown that individuals with ADHD often
show less activation in the left prefrontal cortex than those without the
condition, indicating that this area of the brain could be where the condition
manifests itself. This is backed up by studies that show that the brains of
children with ADHD develop slower than normal, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
As the brain develops from the back to the front, the prefrontal cortex is
the last to grow, hence the higher prevalence of ADHD in children than in
It is possible that future treatments for ADHD could minimise
or eradicate these effects and allow ADHD sufferers to unlock the potential of
their high IQ’s. Until that time, however, those with ADHD may have to work
harder than their peers to achieve the results they deserve.
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