How neurodiverse people are like hunter-gatherers: part III — difficulties adapting to a “farmer” society

I have been arguing that neurodiverse people have ancient hunter-gatherer minds living in a farmer society. Many aspects of neurodiversity can be understood from this alone, e.g. that farmer-herder types make up well 75% of the population, The remaining 25% make up hunter-gatherer types, who are generally less attuned to social norms and less conformist. It’s also estimated that up to 25% of the population are neurodiverse. A lot of aspects of neurodiversity often get “pathologized” when we are really only dealing with our evolutionary programme here: minds that worked well for millennia in hunter-gatherer societies, but that often function poorly in our modern society when it comes to “rote farmer tasks”. A lot of neurodiverse people struggle in school (rote learning) and 9–5 routine “farmer” jobs. As Thom Hartmann (who discovered the link between hunting and ADHD) says, hunter-types in offices are probably the reason why coffee is the number one drink in the world.

Here is an overview of evolutionary types (with their respective temperament):

These types may be somewhat mixed, but much less so than expected due to a phenomenon called “assortative mating”. Assortative mating aligns nicely with these four types (i.e. farmer types having a preference for farmer type mates, etc.)

Imagine putting a hunter-gatherer into a farmer-herder society. The first thing that will probably happen is some kind of pathology, starting with food-allergies (wheat and dairy), and other problems like irritable bowel syndrome, leaky-gut syndrome and hypothyroidism. Hunter-gatherers are not adapted to a farmer diet and so the body “malfunctions” and pathologies arise. Up to 70% of children with ASD are reported to have gastrointestinal problems. Of course, they don’t have “original” hunter-gatherer bodies, as their hunter-gatherer ancestors probably integrated into farmer societies centuries ago. So, they do have the ability to digest “farmer” food, but it may be less developed than in farmer types.

Moreover, a lot of these problems may also be related to higher stress levels. Having a hunter-gatherer mind that is not entirely adapted to a farmer society is bound to cause increased stress levels. There is a well-known correlation between high cortisol and alcoholism and I bet a lot of hunter-gatherer type people use alcohol for self-medication. High alcohol use can also be found in real hunter-gatherer populations who are assimilated into our civilisation: Native Americans, Nunavik and Australian Aborigines. Among neurodiverse young people with ADHD show the highest risk of addiction with more than 25% of adolescent substance use having ADHD. And this number pales in comparison to online and gaming addiction:

A 2-year prospective study found that adolescents diagnosed as ADHD were the most likely to be addicted to the Internet than other psychiatric symptoms such as hostility and social phobia ( ).

Where does the social anxiety and hostility that we frequently see in neurodiverse people come from? The following lesson from history may give us a clue:

“[…] when the Spanish began their conquest of South America, one of their earliest settlements was at the site of modern Buenos Aires. The settlement was a colonial failure and soon abandoned because the local hunter-gatherers refused to work for the Spanish, even under extreme duress. When the Spanish ventured farther inland and encountered agriculturalists in Paraguay, they easily subjugated the local people by conquering and replacing the aristocracy […]” ( from: William von Hippel The Social Leap)

What was the difference between the hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies the Spanish met? Agricultural societies are hierarchically structured. Conformism is an absolute must in order to avoid hierarchical conflicts. The Paraguayans agriculturalists, therefore, didn’t find it too hard to live under Spanish domination (after some initial resistance). However, the egalitarian hunter-gatherers could never have lived as slaves for the Spanish.

Having egalitarian hunter-gatherer minds neurodiverse people find it hard to fit into social hierarchies. Pair this with an aversion to 9–5 routine work and it is easy to understand why so many people with ADHD (e.g. Richard Branson) drop out of school and become self-employed and entrepreneurs. Social anxiety and hostility are also consequences of the egalitarian mindset. Imagine the ADHD kid who is both aggressive towards peers and teachers and fearful at the same time. This is not proactive aggression, it is clearly reactive aggression My guess is that most children who develop oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are hunter-type children.

To sum up, a host of phenomena seen in neurodiverse children can be understood as them not living in the right kind of environment and are therefore evolutionary mismatches. As I have argued before pattern-seeking cognition and hypersensitivity are among these, as are:

Originally published at on January 4, 2021.