People with ADHD sometimes suggest that one of the upsides of hyperactivity is being able to think quickly.

Is this true though? Or is it more an example of thinking wishfully?

Like a lot of things with ADHD, it depends on context. In general, people with ADHD aren’t the types to get caught up in the details of things. Depending on how you want to frame this tendency, you could call it “inattention to detail” or “seeing the big picture.”

For example, when planning things, people with ADHD often rush through the details. A lot of times they just don’t have the patience to sit down and go through all the specifics that’s not how their brains work.

Rather, they’re more likely to get the gist of something and move on as soon as possible. Some of the reasons for this MO go back to the ADHD brain’s need to stay stimulated and avoid boredom.

In practice, this can look a little like thinking quickly because it’s about absorbing the general idea of something and getting to the next thing as fast as possible instead of working out all the details at length.

But it’s more a qualitative difference than a quantitative one. That is, it’s about a different type of thinking more than a different speed of thinking.

To see why this is true, consider that ADHD can just as easily be thought of as thinking slowly in some situations.

Specifically, there are plenty of situations where taking in the big picture and then moving on right away simply isn’t feasible. Think about doing your taxes every single detail matters, and if you make a careless mistake like writing down the wrong number somewhere, well, you’ve got your friendly neighborhood IRS agent to help you with proofreading.

In these situations that require going through every uninteresting detail one at a time, it’s common for ADHD to be associated with thinking slowly rather than quickly. People with the disorder lose their focus, make careless mistakes, find themselves rereading the same sentence over and over, etc.

Once again, the difference is qualitative more than quantitative. It’s not that people with ADHD are going through a slower version of the same thought process as people without the condition. It’s that their attention is getting pulled away by other things, they’re having to go back to correct inattentive oversights, and so on.

So it’s not that people with ADHD are thinking more quickly or more slowly as a rule. It’s more that their way of thinking in generalities and skipping over details is a better fit in some situations than others.

And if you don’t believe me, not to worry, I know of at least one study to back this up!

Some 2011 research found that people with ADHD and people without ADHD have different preferences in terms of thinking styles. Specifically, people with ADHD would rather spend their time generating ideas whereas people without the disorder prefer to clarify and develop ideas that already exist. In other words, people without ADHD are more interested in working out the details of ideas than people with the disorder, who would rather look at the gist of the ideas themselves and then move on to the next thing.

The bottom line, then, is that people with ADHD don’t necessarily think more quickly or more slowly, although it can seem that way depending on the context. Rather, people with ADHD are often at their best when they can look at the big picture and then keep moving, whereas people without ADHD tend to better at fleshing out the details of things.

The more you look for situations where ADHD helps you think quickly instead of slowly, the more you’ll be able to play to your strengths and not get bogged down in your weaknesses.