How the Theory was Born
The "Hunter versus Farmer" theory was created by Thom Hartman, a popular talk show host and author. On his show, he publicized his theory that people with ADHD are not actually suffering from a disorder; instead, they have simply retained all of the strengths of the hunters who lived thousands of years ago. His theory is based on the premise that over the centuries, ancient hunters gained various attributes to help them be productive while hunting animals. Eventually, as society became more agriculturally based, most people gradually adapted so that they no longer had these strong attributes. In the classroom and in the modern workplace, the "farmer" traits are lauded and accepted, whereas the "hunter" traits are shunned.
Hunter versus Farmer Traits
Examples of these "hunter" traits in people with ADHD, and the corresponding "farmer" traits in the general population, abound. Here are a few examples:
- Hunters have short attention spans, but can focus on a topic intently when it interests them. This enabled them to constantly be on the lookout for prey, and to focus on capturing it once they became aware of it. Farmers on the other hand, stay focused on the same task – no matter how boring – for long periods of time.
- Hunters seem to be impulsive; able to stop what they are doing and throw themselves into a different task – like a deer chase – with little problem. They seem drawn to risky behaviors, because risk is part of being a hunter. Farmers stick to a long-term strategy and do not act on impulse.
- Hunters are concrete thinkers and need concrete goals that they can attain relatively quickly. Farmers are able to wait for long periods of time to achieve goals.
- Hunters seem impatient, easily bored, and unable to follow directions from others because they are independent and drawn towards the excitement of the chase. Farmers have an easier time focusing on mundane tasks patiently and following directions.
Both Sides of the Controversy
People who support the "Hunter versus Farmer" theory appreciate the fact that it views ADHD as a "difference" rather than a disorder. Some people with ADHD may feel that they could easily be a hunter in a different society, due to the fact that they see themselves having the same attributes required of a hunter. Interestingly, researchers studied a traditionally nomadic tribe in Kenya that had split in two. One of the factions remained nomadic, and the other began an agricultural community. Researchers found that members of the still-nomadic tribe who had a gene known to contribute to ADHD fared better than those who did not have the gene. Conversely, members who had formed an agricultural tribe fared better if they lacked the gene. This seems to give some support to the "Hunter versus Farmer" theory.
At the same time, many researchers remain skeptical about the theory. After all, Hartmann's description of a hunter doesn't actually match the diagnosis of ADHD. Scientific concern around Hartmann's theory revolves around the mismatch between the behaviors symptomatic of ADHD, and those he describes as being adaptive for hunters, which better fit a diagnosis of hypomania. More research is necessary to determine whether his theory is actually correct.