Evolution and revolution in child psychiatry: ADHD as a disorder of adaptation

Peter S. Jensen, David Mrazek, Penelope K. Knapp, Laurence Steinberg, Cynthia Pfeffer, John Schowalter, Theodore Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Current knowledge about early plasticity and children's responsiveness to environmental modifications as well as the atheoretical nature of current nosological systems necessitate alternative models to explain the phenomena of childhood behavioral and emotional disturbances. Evolutionary biology provides one such framework. It organizes data from the behavioral and cognitive sciences and parallels similar efforts in other areas of medicine and biology. Through an evolutionary biological fens, some mental disorders are better viewed as an adaptive response to early pathogenic environments and/or reflect the optimization of brain function to some environments at the cost of poorer response to the demands of other environments. As an example, the authors examine attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in relation to evolutionary theories of psychology and biology and clarify the potentially adaptive nature of characteristics of inattention, impulsivity, and motoric hyperactivity, depending on the nature of child's environments. Refraining ADHD characteristics according to evolutionary theory has important treatment implications for clinicians and offers researchers opportunities for novel scientific discoveries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1672-1681
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1997


  • Adaptation
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Behavioral ecology
  • Evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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