The Upside of ADHD

The gene responsible for our hyperactive downfall might be the key to keeping nomads healthy
The same gene that's linked to ADHD provides health benefits in other environments iStockphoto

Wanderlust. Restlessness. Shpilkes. In our sedentary society, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) means disrupted classrooms and lost worker productivity. But for nomads, it might be the key to success. A new study in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology says that DRD4, the gene frequently associated with ADHD, behaves differently across environments, and might cause those who whither while sitting down to excel in a roaming lifestyle.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, compared body mass index (BMI) among the Ariaal people of northern Kenya. Some of the Ariaal have recently settled down, while other groups continue with the nomadic traditions of their ancestors. The researchers found that nomadic Ariaal with the ADHD-related version of DRD4 had a higher BMI than settled Ariaal with the same gene type. For people like the Ariaal, weight means health, and health means prosperity.

If ADHD makes for a successful nomad but a failed office worker, there may be other pathologies that are negative within our particular environment, but beneficial in another. The UWM team continues to investigate how these behaviors play out in other cultural settings; in the meantime, anyone who can’t sit still can just say, “hey, maybe it’s the nomad in me.”