Several different theories regarding the origins of ADD/ADHD. Risk
taking is a component of this cluster that does not help students in
school. But the same disadvantage, as an adult in a risk taking
profession, may be an asset.
Could Someone with ADD have Survived in a Primitive Hunting Society?
A chapter from the second edition of Attention Deficit Disorder: A
Different Perception by Thom Hartmann
Many thoughtful people on all sides of the ADD issue have asked me
this question. One of the most articulate put it quite succinctly when
he said that if he'd been alive 10,000 years ago he would have been
doomed because "I'd forget to take my spear with me when we left for
Others have taken pains to point out to me the necessity of organized
cooperative action for most primitive hunting parties. The ideal of a
hyperactive loner going through the woods looking for dinner doesn't
at all characterize how most anthropologists describe primitive (or
today's) hunter/gatherer methods.
At first glance, it would appear that these considerations blow a hole
in the hypothesis that modern people with ADD are carrying around a
remnant of hunter/gatherer genetic material. It lends credibility to
the notion that ADD is, in fact, a "disease" or at least "not normal,"
and may not have ever been "normal" in human history.
But that overlooks a critical issue: cultural context, the effect of
what we learn to believe about ourselves as we're growing up.
Cultural anthropologists are quick to point out that it's extremely
difficult for any one culture to clearly view another. We
instinctively assume when observing their behaviors that they're
motivated in the same ways we are, that they behave the way they do
for the same reasons we would if we were in their situation, and that
they share our assumptions about how the world works and humanity's
role in the world.
This is a dangerous error, which even tripped up Margaret Mead when
she was writing Coming of Age in Samoa. Since her well-intentioned but
well-publicized error, few anthropologists would make this mistake.
But it's easy for somebody untrained in the field.
The problem, essentially, is that most people, when thinking of
"primitive times," imagine themselves running around in the woods
wearing animal skins and carrying a spear. In their mind's eye, they
transport a twentieth century person back into a fantasy past. But
these "Connecticut Yankees in King Arthur's Court" don't represent
what it was like to grow up in those times; they arrive in a different
era complete with all our acculturation, carrying along all the damage
done to them by our culture. They haul along the preparations we've
received for a Farmers/Industrialists life, but utterly lacking
preparation for a Hunters/Gatherers life.
The fact of the matter is that people in hunter/gatherer tribes live
very different lives than we do, and therefore grow up to be very
different persons from us.
ADDers are damaged by growing up in our society, but not in hunting cultures
Cultural anthropologist Jay Fikes pointed this out to me when we first
discussed the idea of hunters and farmers as an explanation for many
modern psychological differences among people. His research showed
that individuals living among the historically agricultural Native
Americans, such as the Hopi and other Pueblo Indians, are relatively
sedate and risk-averse. On the other hand, Fikes said, members of the
hunting tribes such as the Navajo are "constantly scanning their
environment and are more immediately sensitive to nuances. They're
also the ultimate risk takers. They and the Apaches were great raiders
Navajo children grow up in a society of Navajo hunter and warrior
adults (at least they did before we conquered them, destroyed their
culture, shattered their religions, stole their land, and murdered
most of their citizens). The Navajo raised their children as hunters
and warriors. Until we arrived with horses and guns, they were
extraordinarily successful, and had survived as an intact culture for
thousands of years longer than we have.
But we today are not a society of hunters, raiders, and warriors. We
are farmers, office- and factory-workers. Therefore, we punish and
discourage hunter and warrior behavior in our children and adults.
When people grow up being punished for being the way they are, they
become damaged. They think of themselves as misfits and incompetents.
They lose their own personal power, become shaken and fearful, and
develop a variety of compensating behaviors-many of which are less
What you-the parent, teacher, counselor, or physician-what you tell
the ADD child about himself can have a decisive effect. Children
respond very differently to being told "This is how you work" instead
of "You just don't work right."
To think that these modern ADD people-damaged, shaken, hurt, and
weakened by growing up in the wrong time and culture-could somehow
solve all their problems by simply transporting themselves back to
some mythical prehistoric hunting era is a fantasy. It wouldn't work.
They weren't raised and trained to survive in that environment; they
weren't taught to channel their energies into being hunters and
Instead, they were spanked and slapped, told to shut up and given
detention, and-the ultimate insult-told that they are damaged goods
and have a brain disease worthy of the labels "deficit" and
Hunters are both born and made.
Every type of culture puts enormous amounts of effort into educating
and inculcating cultural values into their citizens. That's how it
becomes a culture.
In hundreds of ways, we are daily taught and reminded of what is
expected of us, what the limits and boundaries are, and what are
appropriate and inappropriate goals and behaviors. Most of this
teaching is so subtle we're totally unaware of it - a glance from a
stranger when we talk too loud in a restaurant, for example - but our
days are filled with it. It shapes us and molds our beliefs, our
assumptions, and ultimately our reality.
We come face-to-face with these differences when we encounter other
cultures. I remember my shock and dismay at discovering, the first
time I was in Japan negotiating on behalf of my company, that I had
committed dozens of major cultural blunders in my interactions. Even
more shocking confrontations occur when we meet people from far
disparate tribes: I remember how odd I felt when, deep in the jungle
of central Uganda, I stood in a village of people who were mostly
naked. My jeans, shoes, shirt, and carried jacket seemed an oddity to
them, and began to seem that way to me after a few hours.
And so we train our young. We reinforce and strengthen in them those
behaviors, assumptions, and beliefs that we find useful as a society,
and we discourage or crush in them those that are not useful or even
counterproductive to the orderly flow of our culture and its work.
Farming societies teach their young how to be good farmers. Hunting
societies train their children in the ways of the hunt. Industrial
societies raise their children to be good factory workers. Warrior
cultures teach warfare to their children.
By the time a young man in the Ugandan Ik hunter/gatherer tribe is
ready to go out on a hunt with the men, he has been trained his entire
life for that moment. He's played at it virtually from birth. He's had
a personal mentor for half his lifetime, an adult who has taught him
the lore of the jungle and the prey. He's practiced for thousands of
hours. He may be high-energy, impulsive, distractible, and a
risk-taker, but he is also a brilliant and proficient hunter, a master
killing machine. He has been trained from his first steps to focus and
concentrate that wild energy on this one task, and to exploit and use
his scanning and quick-thinking and love of adventure to cooperate
with the other men in the jungle to bring home dinner.
In this context, you can see how naïve it is to ask if a "person with
ADD" (which is, after all, a "disorder" defined only by, and unique to
our culture) could succeed in a hunting/gathering society.
There's little doubt that a child who's had his ego bashed from thirty
different directions since he was little, who's spent his life being
told "don't be that way" and "sit down and shut up," whose only
well-honed hunting skill is finding MTV with his remote control, would
fail in the jungle. Anyone who's always been told they're no good will
lack confidence and will fail to perform.
This was perfectly illustrated by a story in Newsweek in 1994. It was
an account of an ongoing study of a group of now-adults with ADD who
were diagnosed as having ADD in elementary school in the 1960s: some
had significantly lower outcomes in life than people not diagnosed
But nowhere in the study, or the article, was it mentioned that only
the ADD subjects were told they were "disordered" and required to take
drugs for their "mind sickness" while still children.
For the study to have statistical validity, a matching population of
non-ADD children would have to have been treated the same way, and
their outcome would have to be compared against the ADD population.
Of course no ethical researcher would dare take a perfectly ordinary
child and tell him such things: too many past studies in the field of
psychology have shown how destructive the outcome could be. But that's
exactly what we've been doing with our ADD children.
If that same child with the bashed ego had been born into a hunting
tribe, so that his traits were developed instead of being beaten out
of him, he may well have turned out to be the mightiest of their
warriors, the most brilliant of their hunters, the wisest of their
The Hunters and the Farmers
Not too long ago, the typical traits of a person with ADHD were
actually advantageous. People relied often on specific skills needed
to bring home meat for the nourishment of the family. These skills are
still valued today in hunter gatherer societies around the world.
Fleetness of foot and strong on sprinting (though short on marathon
running), ability to change course instantly, ability to make snap
decisions, creativity in plotting the path of capture, ingenuity in
devising traps, the ability to monitor the whole situation with global
thinking skills, all contribute to a successful hunt. Successful
hunters also have an extraordinary ability to hyper focus on the task
at hand for hours on end if it is extremely important or interesting.
This is often a surprising fact for people who do not understand the
full range of ADHD-like behaviors.
Imagine the type of individual who would have first explored and then
settled this country long ago. It was not only a strength but a
necessity to make independent decisions using survival skills in the
wilds. Driven by curiosity about an evolving world, a need for
physical activity and large muscle activity, and an "every man for
himself" mentality, the hunter type flourished.
After the industrial revolution, the traditional classroom setting
became all important to produce workers for factories with production
lines, prepared for repetitive work. Suddenly, the need for novelty,
individuality, creativity, spontaneous movement and quick problem
solving often became secondary to orderliness and repetitive tasks.
Ponder just a moment the following question . Where in today's society
could someone such as Benjamin Franklin suddenly appear and feel
perfectly at home? I would say he would feel right at home in many of
our school classrooms. While there are fine schools working to make
education relevant to what a child will need as an adult there are
many more that teach the way our fathers and their fathers learned.
The child sits in the seat and faces a teacher who stands at the front
of the room and teaches in a lecture style of teaching, then they
often proceed to rote work or worksheets.
With public education aimed straight for the 50th percentile, many
children who have ADHD have a need for specialized and novel
instruction. We often see them struggling to survive in a world too
often devoted to repetitive worksheets, sitting still in a seat,
listening to a teacher lecturing at the front of the room. Most people
can learn in this environment to the extent they can produce the work
expected of them. However, when the emphasis is on rote learning the
child with ADHD is often further hampered by short term memory
problems and has difficulty attending to tasks that lack novelty. He
or she also frequently lacks the social skills that might get him out
of a jam gracefully.
The farmer type, who is not bothered by repetitive work or lack of
novelty often manages just fine and comes out of the system with a
decent education unless they also have a disability that hampers
learning the traditional way. There are many farmer type children who
also fall off the assembly line because they learn differently.
However, they are usually viewed more patiently and positively because
they do not lack the social skills or have the impulsive behaviors of
a child with ADHD.
The hunter type is wise to be very selective about the field of work
he or she chooses. Hunters often choose fields such as airline pilots,
policemen, investigators, trial lawyers, advertising executives,
entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and musicians. They are wise to go
into professions that offer novelty, changing surroundings, lots of
movement, a variety of activities, and that offer a challenge. They
should make use of their tremendous energy and creativity. There is a
strong correlation between ADHD and creativity.
Because their attention wanders easily, hunters can often see a
problem from several different directions and arrive at new, unique
conclusions. It is not unusual for such people to have a number of
careers, sometimes simultaneously.After giving a talk on ADHD, one
gentleman approached me and thanked me. He said he had always felt
guilty about changing jobs, but after owning a successful business for
quite awhile he felttied down and bored. After hearing my reference to
Mr. Hartmann's book, he decided on-the-spot (surprising? :-) to
consult a therapist and work out what he really wanted to do next in
the way of work.
It is important for hunters not to measure themselves by the standards
of a farmer society but by their individual strengths. It is also
important to choose a profession that showcases those strengths. While
hunters need to realize they live in a farmer society there are
numerous opportunities for them to succeed. It is important to weigh
the strengths and weaknesses and decide where the best fit will be in
terms of fulfillment and success.
Many hunters team up with a farmer in work or in a marriage. They seem
to know instinctively that they can draw on the great executive
functions farmers tend to have to help them stay on task and
organized. We on call them to be coaches.
Hunters are often risk takers. Mr. Hartmann talks about the difference
between linear problem solving and random problem solving. A vertical
problem solver who finds a door that is stuck is likely to bang harder
and harder on it, eventually kicking it in if necessary. The random
problem solver is more likely to look for other ways, such as trying
other doors or windows. The hunter would fall into the later category.
This theory of hunters and farmers is no means meant to put down or
belittle the farmer temperament. Farmers are superior at organizing,
staying on track, performing all the tasks the hunter is weak at
performing. They have important strengths necessary for many fields of
endeavor. I think of certain wildly successful trial lawyers who have
teams of farmers doing the meticulous research and footwork so
necessary in such a field. At the same time, farmers need to recognize
the tremendous strengths of the hunter, and value them from early
childhood for their potential. They must teach them they way they
learn, with methods which have been proven successful for children
with ADHD. These strategies are also excellent for all children
The following individuals all exhibited the characteristics of a good
hunter. They were global thinkers, sought novelty, were risk takers,
and were easily bored by repetitive tasks. They showed incredible
energy and flexibility and were not afraid to stand out from the
crowd. Their bursts of creativity will live on forever, and you
hunters reading this will instantly identify with them.
A number of them also appear to have had learning disabilities. Of the
first three listed, Edison's mother, recognizing her son just learned
differently, home schooled him; Einstein flunked math in the sixth
grade; Mozart was lousy at personal relationships. Yet who dwells on
the human frailties when turning on an electric lamp, studying the
theory of relativity, or listening to music that will live forever?
Hunters can celebrate their unique capacity for independent thinking
and creativity, and learn to walk around their weaknesses. In the end,
hopefully you will even chuckle at them and realize they are a part of
what makes that person one of a kind, unique and beautiful. Below are
just a few that would no doubt fit the profile of a hunter.
·Leonardo da Vinci
·Sir Francis Drake
·Alexander Graham Bell
My resources only listed famous men hunters from the past
However, I've come up with some possible women hunters.
·Queen Elizabeth I
·Queen Isabella of Spain