The hunter vs. farmer hypothesis states that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and its counterpart in adults, the adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have their origins in a tendency in those individuals for behaviors characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies over those of farming societies. The hypothesis was proposed by Thom Hartmann and suggest that these conditions may be a result of a form of adaptive behavior.
Hartmann developed the Hunter-Gatherer vs. farmer idea as a mental model after his own son was disheartened following a diagnosis of ADHD, stating, “It’s not hard science, and was never intended to be.” However, more recent molecular and clinical research has given support to the hunter vs. farmer hypothesis, and some researchers use the hunter vs. farmer idea as a working hypothesis of the origin of ADHD.
Hartmann notes that most or all humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but that this standard gradually changed as agriculture developed in most societies, and more people worldwide became farmers. Over many years, most humans adapted to farming cultures, but Hartmann speculates that people with ADHD retained some of the older hunter characteristics.
A key component of the hypothesis is that the proposed “hyperfocus” aspect of ADHD is a gift or benefit under appropriate circumstances. The hypothesis also explains the distractibility factor in ADHD individuals and their short attention span for subject matter that does not trigger hyperfocus, along with various other characteristics such as apathy towards social norms, poor planning and organizing ability, distorted sense of time, impatience, attraction to variety or novelty or excitement, and impulsiveness. It is argued that in the hunter-gatherer cultures that preceded farmingsocieties, hunters needed hyperfocus more than gatherers.