Professor Fitzgerald, of Dublin’s Trinity College, will speak today at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Academic Psychiatry about ADHD, creativity, novelty-seeking and risk.
Professor Fitzgerald, in his recent book of the same title, has examined the lives of notable achievers including Thomas Edison, Kurt Cobain, Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron Jules Verne, Che Guevara, James Dean, Clark Gable, Picasso, Mark Twain and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Based on historical research, the professor believes all these high-achievers had or displayed symptoms of ADHD.
Professor Fitzgerald says: “The same genes that are involved ADHD can also be associated with risk-taking behaviour. While these urges can be problematic or even self-destructive – occasionally leading people into delinquency, addiction or crime – they can also lead to earth-shattering breakthroughs in the fields of the art, science and exploration.”
Professor Fitzgerald continues: “People with ADHD have symptoms of inattentiveness, but they often also have a capacity to hyper-focus on a narrow area that is of particular interest to them. Clearly ADHD is not a guarantee of genius, but the focused work rate that it produces may enable creative genius to flourish. For example, Kurt Cobain – who we know was prescribed the anti-hyperactivity drug Ritalin as a child – had an amazing ability to focus on writing music.”
Professor Fitzgerald’s research has led him to identify ADHD as a recurring factor in the creative genius of many historic figures. He argues: “The best evidence we have suggests that Lord Byron had ADHD. He had a turbulent life – at school he was often in trouble, and as an adult he engaged in criminal activities and was eventually forced to flee the country. But he was also the greatest lyric poet in the English language. Similarly, Sir Walter Raleigh was a reckless character. But his insatiable quest for new stimulation and risk-taking behaviour also made him a famous soldier, adventurer and explorer.”
Professor Fitzgerald concludes: “There is a considerable stigma surrounding ADHD, and people tend to focus on the negatives of the disorder. But we should balance this by remembering that ADHD can, in the right circumstances, be a fertiliser helping to generate a seed of untapped potential in a person.”
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Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Academic Psychiatry, Keele University, 4 February 2010