top of page

Are People with ADHD Divergent Thinkers?

Updated: 5 days ago

The brainstorming phase of a project is often your favourite, as you find it easy to let your mind wander and come up with new ideas. At the conclusion and implementation stage, however, you have difficulty focusing on getting the final touches right, with strict control necessary to prevent your mind jumping to other topics.

If you relate to this example, you may be high in divergent thinking and low in convergent thinking, as is common among people with ADHD.

What are divergent and convergent thinking?

Convergent thinking and divergent thinking describe types of problem solving. Convergent thinking is defined as “the ability to form associations between disparate concepts” [8, p.1]. In other words, convergent thinking is being able to evaluate separate pieces of evidence in order to find the best solution to a problem.

  • An everyday example of a task requiring convergent thinking would be a mathematical problem in which logical deduction is used to find the correct solution. In psychology, convergent thinking is often tested using the Remote Association Task, in which respondents must find the common element among three words (e.g. ‘rocking / wheel / high’ are all types of chair).

Divergent thinking is defined as “the ability to generate multiple ideas or solutions to a problem”. This type of thinking is similar to creativity, with both creativity and divergent thinking characterised by the ability to produce of a breadth of information from a simple prompt.

  • An everyday example of divergent thinking would be thinking of a clever message to put on a birthday card. In psychology, divergent thinking is often tested with the Unusual Uses Test, in which respondents are asked to come up with as many uses as possible for a single object (e.g. a shoe – wear it on your feet, plant something in it, build a fort out of them, make shoe stew).

3 reasons why ADHD is connected with divergent thinking

A recent review found that ADHD tends to be associated with worse convergent thinking ability and better divergent thinking ability [1]. Here are a few reasons why it is accurate to say people with ADHD are better at divergent thinking:

  1. Divergent thinking increases as inhibition decreases

ADHD is associated with divergent thinking through their shared relationship with low inhibition [2]. Latent inhibition is the ability to automatically ‘screen out’ irrelevant stimuli. Divergent thinking and low inhibition are related because the ability to generate a variety of ideas is hampered by inhibitive processes which aim to suppress irrelevant ideas [8].

2. People with ADHD take in more sensory information

People with ADHD exhibit above-average levels of resting-state brain activity, particularly in sensory cortices [7]. This suggests that people with ADHD are taking in a greater volume of sensory information when compared to neurotypical individuals, and explains the tendency for people with ADHD to feel overwhelmed by sights and sounds that others find almost unnoticeable. Increased sensitivity to sensory information has been associated with greater imagination, creativity, and inventiveness [6], which likely entails increased divergent thinking ability.

3. Divergent thinking is closely linked with creativity and dopamine

Those of us with ADHD will recognise dopamine for its important role in motivation, but this neurotransmitter also affects creativity. The creative advantage conferred by ADHD is well established [1], and findings of a recent study linked dysfunctional dopamine levels with improved convergent thinking ability and also with reduced convergent thinking ability [3].

What does this mean for everyday problem solving with ADHD?