Creativity and Brain Networks in ADHD

One characteristic of ADHD that can be annoying and frustrating is “having a head full of thoughts”.

This phenomenological description though, is correlated with clear patterns of neural network activity.


It is common for ADHD individuals to have much more co-activation of networks that are usually run in isolation:

The “Default Mode Network” (DMN), is associated with planning or reviewing previous actions. if overactivated it may be associated with rumination or anxiety. The highest DMN activity is found in depression, and the lowest DMN activity so far has been found in senior Tibetan monks, with thousands of hours of meditation experience.

It is usually much less active when an individual is engaged in a task, but one characteristic of ADHD is that it is often not deactivated when one of the Task Positive Networks  (TPN) is active.

Equally there is much co-activation of TPNs in ADHD.

However, recent research shows a clear link between these sort of patterns of multiple network activation and creativity and this now provides a clear neurologically based understanding of just why ADHD is likely to be associated with higher levels of novel idea generation.


The researchers hypothesized that for a creative idea to be produced, the brain must activate a number of different – and perhaps even contradictory – networks. In the first part of the research, respondents were give half a minute to come up with a new, original and unexpected idea for the use of different objects. Answers which were provided infrequently received a high score for originality, while those given frequently received a low score. In the second part, respondents were asked to give, within half a minute, their best characteristic (and accepted) description of the objects. During the tests, all subjects were scanned using an FMRI device to examine their brain activity while providing the answer.

The researchers found increased brain activity in an “associative” region among participants whose originality was high. This region, which includes the anterior medial brain areas, mainly works in the background when a person is not concentrating, similar to daydreaming.

The link to the paper is here:


 Neuroimage 2015 Aug 1;116:232-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.05.030. Epub 2015 May 20.

Generating original ideas: The neural underpinning of originality.

Mayseless N, Eran A, Shamay-Tsoory SG







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