ADHD may have evolved to give us foraging superpowers

Plus other weird things we learned this week.

Researchers analyzed data from 457 adults who played an online foraging game. DepositPhotos

What’s the weirdest thing you learned this week? Well, whatever it is, we promise you’ll have an even weirder answer if you listen to PopSci’s hit podcast. The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week hits Apple, Spotify, YouTube, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts every-other Wednesday morning. It’s your new favorite source for the strangest science-adjacent facts, figures, and Wikipedia spirals the editors of Popular Science can muster. If you like the stories in this post, we guarantee you’ll love the show.

Heads up: The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week has been nominated for a Webby! You can vote to help us win the Webby People’s Voice Award. Click here to vote by April 18

FACT: ADHD may have evolved to make us better at picking berries 

By Rachel Feltman

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently released a study on the potential evolutionary benefits of ADHD. They analyzed data from 457 adults who played an online foraging game, where the objective was to collect as many berries as possible within an eight minute span.

Players could choose to either keep collecting berries from the bushes in their original location, or move to a new patch. (By the way, this sounds an awful lot like a game I used to play on Neopets!) Moving would cost them a brief time out, and there was no guarantee that the patch would have as many berries as their current location, but the number of berries you could get from each bush went down each time you foraged it again. 

Along with the game, subjects also took a survey designed to assess whether they had symptoms of ADHD. This didn’t constitute a full or formal diagnosis, but it screened for traits like having difficulty concentrating. 

When the researchers compared the survey results with the game play stats, they found that people with ADHD symptoms played differently—and more effectively—than their peers. They were more likely to move on to another bush, and collected an average of 602 berries compared with 521. 

I probably don’t need to tell you that this isn’t exactly a perfect model for actual foraging. The researchers do hope to do a similar experiment in the future involving in-person foraging, where they’d use people with formal ADHD diagnoses as their experimental subjects, but that would obviously be a much more complicated experiment to run. 

But this isn’t the first research to suggest that ADHD traits and other types of neurodiversity might have evolved to help our ancestors survive. Other studies have examined the differences in how people with ADHD search for information or objects and found that we spend more time in the “explore” phase of foraging versus the “exploit” phase. There’s even ongoing research to suggest that kids with ADHD are less susceptible to inattention bias.

In 2008, researchers found that members of a nomadic group in Kenya who had gene mutations associated with ADHD were in better health than average, while those same mutations were associated with malnourishment in closely related people who lived as farmers. There’s a broad idea known as the hunter versus farmer hypothesis that covers this phenomenon. The idea is that the hyperfocus associated with ADHD was actually a really useful trait back when humans spent their days hunting and foraging. It’s much less useful useful in agrarian and industrialized life. One 1998 study found that adults with self-reported ADHD were much better able to postpone eating, sleeping, and other personal needs to absorb themselves in an urgent task, like a last-minute deadline. That’s a mindset that would have come in handy for unpredictable food acquisition, like the sudden appearance of a herd of mammoths or an unexpected bounty of berries.

Some researchers have even suggested that sugar can trigger hyperactivity symptoms because the fructose makes our brains think we’ve come across a foraging bounty and should search for more berries.

While there’s a lot more research to be done on this subject, this study is an important reminder that our current sense of what’s “good” and what’s “normal” is pretty arbitrary—and that reframing these ideas can unlock really cool insights into why humans actually are the way they are. And at least according to some foragers, these findings are no surprise at all

FACT: Venus is Earth’s evil twin

By Knimbley

Join me as I embark on a fascinating journey into the depths of Venus’s mysteries. From Elden Ring’s DLC to Venus’s mythological allure and its longstanding status as a scientific enigma, my contribution to this week’s episode dances between realms of curious tangents, genderfluid anatomy, and fantasy. As we explore Venus’s dual nature and delve into the origins of stories both factual and fictional, listeners are invited to ponder the cosmic wonders that await us beyond Earth’s confines (and hopefully are unveiled within the Shadow of the Erdtree). With warmth and perhaps too much matcha, we navigate the intersection of myth and science, embracing the magic of exploration.

If you’re hungry for some more Venus-related science after this week’s episode, check out NASA’s content on the subject:

FACT: People think this lotion attracts spiders en masse—but the truth is more complicated than that 

By Jess Boddy

At the end of last year, people were all in a tizzy because of the lotion spiders. Yes, the lotion spiders. Someone left a review on Sephora’s website about a specific kind of lotion: the Delícia Drench body butter made by the company Sol de Janeiro. Here’s that review.

This wasn’t the only review that said this lotion attracted spiders—there were a handful. And then, the unspeakable happened… People posted the reviews to Reddit. Word of lotion spiders spread like wildfire. Folks started doing their own home “experiments,” putting the lotion on tissues and watching to see if spiders appeared. Pretty much everyone came to the same conclusion: this lotion attracts wolf spiders. 

However, scientists aren’t so sure. Listen to this week’s episode to find out the scientific truth about this potentially spider-attracting beauty product—and if there are others to avoid if you have a fear of arachnids. (Spoiler: It’s complicated.)