ADHD, the hunter-gatherer hypothesis and orchid children

When I came up with my hunter-gatherer vs farmer hypothesis I was researching personality differences between people (e.g. openness to experience), giftedness, hunter-gatherer hypothesis in connection with ADHD ASD and altruism in connection with the OXTR gene. No other research at that stage pointed to a hunter-gatherer origin of these phenomena until I discovered Thom Hartmann’s . In brief: Hartmann speculated that ADHD might have benefitted hunter-gatherers in the Savannah due to the hyperfocus it comes with more than the farmers that came later who required more routine focus on their work. You can imagine ADHD a bit like a radar that circles around until it hits something interesting and then hyperfocuses.

ADHD is linked to the DRD4–7R allele, which is associated with novelty seeking. This variant has a much higher occurrence in nomadic populations (hunter-gatherers and pastoralists) than among sedentary farmer populations.

Hyperfocus is not only common in ADHD, but also in ASD (special interests) and gifted children. My gifted son wouldn’t stop learning about a new special interested until there wasn’t much left to learn about it. He was hyperlexic as a toddler and learned three different alphabets around two years of age. He was so focused on learning each alphabet that it took him merely a few days to learn the Russian and Greek alphabets:

My hunter-gatherer hypothesis had come full circle and ADHD was only another piece in the puzzle. ADHD is often comorbid with

My hunter-gatherer hypothesis had already “predicted” many of these traits as a consequence of a mind that is programmed to work in a different environment than in a “farmer world”. Extreme childhood anxiety and depression are hard to understand otherwise, as the kids often haven’t experienced a trauma that would explain their condition. One “solution” would say, the kids have a genetic defect, as ADHD, as well as many of the other conditions, run in families. However, there are no “recent” mutations that would point to genetic defects, all of the involved genes are ancient genes, part of our hunter-gatherer heritage.

You often hear stories about six-year-old gifted children who find the world extremely unjust and they wish they had never been born. as teenagers of adults and above all gifted kids are often “orchid children”, i.e. they may turn into beautiful flowers or just wither away. There is also a high incidence of “twice-exceptional” gifted kids, i.e. kids who are both gifted and have learning disabilities (typically ADHD, dyslexia and ASD). Gifted kids are more prone to commit suicide

In my work as a teacher, I have found that “hunter-gatherer” kids tend to be among my star students, as well as being overrepresented in special education. Here is the motley crew of hunter-gatherer kids in schools:

  • The gifted (i.e. excellent grades plus tend to choose difficult college majors after high school)
  • the creative kids (interested in writing, creating videos and animations, etc.)
  • Special ed kids (ADHD, ASD, ODD, etc.)
  • The outcasts (isolated kids with social anxiety)
  • The “weirdos”: Emos, Goths, geeks, and nerds
  • Teens with self-harming behavior (cutting, substance abuse).
  • The problem kids (no homework, asocial or antisocial behaviour)
  • The dropouts (the kids who are frustrated with our education system)

All of them non-neurotypical hunter-gatherer minds. Not all of them suffer from ADHD, but symptoms tend to overlap. If you think of Einstein you can assume that many of them would have applied to him, like ASD, early speech disorder, dyslexia, ADHD and depression.

ADHD has also some other surprising links. When two of my hunter-gatherer students were talking about their iron-deficiencies recently, I was reminded that I had the same condition myself as a kid. A few minutes of googling later I found out that there is a well-known connection between ADHD and iron deficiency. While this Another ADHD link connects article here claims that iron deficiency causes ADHD, I think it is more likely that there is simply a correlation. Hunter-gatherer kids (gifted, ASD) tend to be picky eaters in childhood.
ADHD with red hair. Redheads have always been said to be fiery and hot-tempered. If true, it would confirm my impression that hunter-gatherer minds are overrepresented among redheads.

Originally published at on October 26, 2019.