Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD is Largely a Fraud


By Carolanne Wright

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Viewed by academics as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Kagan ranked above Carl Jung (the founder of analytical psychology) and Ivan Pavlov (who discovered the Pavlovian reflex) in a 2002 American Psychological Association ranking of the eminent psychologists. He is well-known for his pioneering work in developmental psychology at Harvard University, where he has spent decades documenting how babies and small children grow, and is an exceptional and highly-regarded researcher.

So it may be surprising to learn that he believes the diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is an invention — and only benefits the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatrists.

Mislabeling Mental Illness

“That is the history of humanity: Those in authority believe they’re doing the right thing, and they harm those who have no power”, says Jerome Kagan.

In an interview with Spiegel, Kagan addressed the skyrocketing rates of ADHD in America, which he attributes to “fuzzy diagnostic practices.” He illustrated his point with the following example:

Say fifty years ago you have a 7-year-old who is bored in school and exhibits disruptive behavior. Back then, he would be labeled as lazy. But today, that same child is said to suffer from ADHD. That’s why we’ve seen such a dramatic increase in the disorder.

Every child who is having problems in school is sent to see a pediatrician, who then claims it’s ADHD and prescribes Ritalin. “In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis,” he said.

“We could get philosophical and ask ourselves: “What does mental illness mean?” If you do interviews with children and adolescents aged 12 to 19, then 40 percent can be categorized as anxious or depressed. But if you take a closer look and ask how many of them are seriously impaired by this, the number shrinks to 8 percent. Describing every child who is depressed or anxious as being mentally ill is ridiculous. Adolescents are anxious, that’s normal. They don’t know what college to go to. Their boyfriend or girlfriend just stood them up. Being sad or anxious is just as much a part of life as anger or sexual frustration,” Kagan told Spiegel.

What are the implications for the millions of American children who are inaccurately diagnosed as mentally ill? Kagan believes it’s devastating because they think there is something fundamentally wrong with them. He’s not the only psychologist to raise the alarm about this trend, but Kagan and others feel they’re up against “an enormously powerful alliance: pharmaceutical companies that are making billions, and a profession that is self-interested.”

Kagan himself suffered from inner restlessness and stuttering as a child, but his mother told him: “There’s nothing wrong with you. Your mind is working faster than your tongue.” He thought at the time: “Gee, that’s great, I’m only stuttering because I’m so smart.” If he had been born in the present era, he most likely would have been classified as mentally ill.

ADHD isn’t the only mental illness epidemic among children that worries Kagan, depression is another. In 1987, about one in 400 American teenagers was using an antidepressant. By 2002, the numbers leaped to one in 40. He feels it’s another overused diagnosis, simply because the pills are available. Instead of immediately resorting to pharmaceutical drugs, he thinks doctors should take more time with the child to find out why they aren’t as cheerful, for instance. At the very least, a few tests should be carried out — and an EEG for certain, especially since studies have shown that people who have heightened activity in the right frontal lobe respond poorly to antidepressants.

Kagan remembers going into a textbook-type depression after a major research project he was involved with failed. He had insomnia and met all the other clinical criteria for depression. But since he knew what the cause was, he didn’t seek professional help. After six months, the depression was gone. Under normal circumstances, he would have been diagnosed as mentally ill by a psychiatrist and put on medication.

But here lies an important distinction: when a life event overwhelms us, it’s common to fall into a depression for a while. But there are those who have a genetic vulnerability and experience chronic depression; they are mentally ill. It’s crucial to look not only at the symptoms, but the causes. This is where psychiatry drops the ball, as it’s the only medical profession that establishes illness on symptoms alone. Such a blind spot opens the door for new maladies — like bipolar disorder, which we never used to see in children. As it stands today, nearly a million Americans under the age of 19 are diagnosed with it.

“A group of doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital just started calling kids who had temper tantrums bipolar. They shouldn’t have done that. But the drug companies loved it because drugs against bipolar disorders are expensive. That’s how the trend was started. It’s a little like in the 15th century, when people started thinking someone could be possessed by the devil or hexed by a witch,” said Kagan.

When asked if there are alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs for behavioral abnormalities, Kagan said we could look at tutoring, as an example, for kids diagnosed with ADHD. After all, it’s never the ones who are doing well in school that are diagnosed, it’s always the children who are struggling.

Related reading:

Article sources:

About the author:

Carolanne WrightCarolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.

Through her website, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Further reading from Carolanne Wright:


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  • Bo VanderKloot

    ADD,ADHD are real hereditary traits whether or not they are treated as
    mental illness. I was diagnosed couple years ago with ADD and depression
    and prescribed a non stimulant medication. I had spent years taking

    supplementsfish oils, 5-htp,choline, vit. A,D. St John’s wort, Sam-E ect ect,
    I never was able to tell if I had any improvement. Buprorion completely changed
    my life. Things that I usually just didnt get around to now just get
    done. I remember things I used to forget am able to manage time and
    follow through in a way that eluded me for the previous 48 years. So I
    know without a doubt that ADD is absolutely real and medication can be
    extremely effectiv treatment. So why do the author and the professor
    get attention for challenging the idea?The Academic will get notoriety
    that could advance his career. The author gets people to read her
    article which is more provocative than objective. I think most teachers
    hate the idea of ADD, teachers like the ones who for years sent me to
    hallways and principles offices, endless teachers conferences when was I
    going to stop making excuses and really make an effort?The reason I
    learned my teachers were wrong was because State sanctioned
    standardized testing. My test results put me in the top 2-3% in language
    social studies and science while my teachers were giving me D’s.
    People in our culture whether left or right tend to be ego oriented
    which rejects the idea anything is outside of personal control. ADD is
    just one of these things so people want to say its not real. I think the
    real problem is that public education is actually more about behavior
    training than acquiring knowledge or critical thinking skills.

  • Cassandra Swanson

    Was this article made to be your click bate. A simple google search shows that this doctor never called ADHD a Fraud, he said it was over diagnosed. How do you sleep at night publishing articles stating a learning disability is a Fraud. Maybe you can find others with disabilities and write abut what your opinion is on their life challenges too. Waste of internet space.

    • jamesapril

      Yes he did say that! Read it again: “So it may be surprising to learn that he believes the diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is an invention :.

      It’s an “invention.” get it now?

      • Cassandra Swanson

        No, the article quotes him by saying it is an invention. When you read his other interviews and statements he is very clear it is over diagnosed. This doctor has never called it a fraud. This article takes other statements he has given out of context.

  • jamesapril

    Yes he did say it does not exist. It doesn’t! “So it may be surprising to learn that he believes the diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is an invention “. Read the article again.

    • AshleyBurt

      Aren’t all diagnoses actually invented in one way or another? No one was born and their body just say.. lung cancer. They’re human names for biological and chemical processes. Like a syndrome. Not one knows the cause but it exists so, it gets a name. It’s a ways to organize monitor and treat. To completely cast off the entire disorder as fake is pretty bold given his academic credentials and how much documentation of diagnosis and treatment success exist.

  • AshleyBurt

    Such a smart smart man but apparently can’t get past the pitfall of overgeneralization. If he thinks it’s such a fraud, I’d like him to live just a few hours with a brain plagued by ADHD. ADHD diagnosis surge is akin to the surge in diagnosis of autism. Awareness. There is more awareness of ADHD. I equate ADHD to a condition or a trait as common as having blue eyes. I don’t care how common it is. It’s not my prerogative to be special or unique. I just want to live a happy life as do most with ADHD. I was raised with this man’s fallacious mentality that ADHD was fake and a medical scam. The whole time I dealt with it thinking it was just me, that I was broken and it was just hoe my life would be. 30 years I was swooned into believing the lies this Harvard scholar pushed but from various other sources. Not until now was I able to take my life back after ignoring this nonsense and denial. The true scam is people like this, who choose to spend their life discouraging people from getting help they need, convincing them it’s just them and they’re bored. News flash, ADHD and being “bored” are complete and absolute polar opposites. A person with the disorder may appear bored, but if you could actually see or feel what is going on in their brain, it’s like a category 4 hurricane. They’re mentally frozen and there is help to overcome that.

    This man is a disgrace to the academic and scientific community.

  • AshleyBurt

    If you don’t actually have the disorder, refrain for judging people who have experienced it.

    • wisdom of the knowing

      Please for give me. I have lived in this life a long time. People have tried to convince me that I had “ADD”. I explored it and found understanding of a deeper truth in this concept of deficit and attention. Find a quiet still space and with in the stillness will come the understanding.

  • AshleyBurt

    Diagnosis is a starting point. But it’s much more common than people think. I looked at it like some rare cancer my whole life thinking only special people truly had it and it was overdiagnosed.. but I had it the whole time. It’s not a cancer or a death sentence, but a diagnosis is a starting point even if at first it wrong and needs revision, it’s much easier to diagnose and cheaper to treat than a complicated illness like OCD, schizophrenia, dyslexia, sleep disorders etc. Those disorders require many tests and no quick fix. ADHD medication is cheap and an effect can be felt usually within a day or so. Other disorders aren’t that easy. So I say this man needs to stop discouraging, work to come up with solutions to problems he’s complaining about and continue to and allow people to seek help without placing fear of medicine in them where they may never get help. He is at fault here. He’s an overgenerlizer and fearmongerer. I mean people like this guy are why I never got help for almost 30 years… people are already ashamed and scared to get help as it is. He needs to back off. And do more homework before coming out with a headline like this.

  • Jennifer Stephan

    If you aren’t interested in using medications for mental health, look into Hardy Nutritionals, their micronutrient complex Daily Essential Nutrients is highly research backed.

  • Andrew Sanders

    I found this medium article that talks about the use of micronutrients for the treatment of ADHD as an alternative to drugs. It’s worth looking at.

  • Edie Baker

    Seems to me you have never really been around a child with ADHD. I can assure you unless you have lived it you cannot understand it. I have an 11 yr old nephew that is with me a lot and we tried diet, numerous natural remedies and nothing helped. Medication was a LAST resort. Have even taken him off periodically and had to put him back on it. It has been hell trying to figure out the right dosages and medication. So for you to make such statements like “it’s largely a freud “really angers me. He has been going to MUSC for the past several years along with counseling every 2 weeks. We have met with teachers and principles since 2nd grade because of his inattentivness and inability to focus and disrupting class. Having to go to meetings to numerous to count, IEP meetings, and on and on. It has taken 4 years to find a medication that is actually helping. So to read this actually makes my blood boil. Unless you have lived this, you could never begin with to understand. There is much that cannot be learned otherwise. Edie Baker

  • Kelly Corbin

    I’ve always said that! Kids are kids…they need discipline and structure but that begins at home…but there are too many “single moms” out there who don’t even stop to think what they are doing when they are sleeping with every Tom, Dick, and Harry and getting knocked up without even considering what that will do to a child with an absentee father…as most’s all about low morals or no morals!

  • Dave Kavanagh

    I wrote this some time ago in response to a similar article. I know that Kagan does not discount ADHD but I feel the article is detrimental to those who are ADHD and reinforces the opinion that medication for ADHD is detrimental.

    Hi. My name is Dave and I have ADHD…….

    I am writing this piece in response to “Mr Know It All” who gives no credence to this thing called ADHD and believes that the medication used to treat ADHD is all nonsense and a good “Twack on the arse” would send us on our way cured and repentant.

    He thinks that medication for ADHD reduces children to some sort of state sponsored zombie and robs them of their individuality, he mutters about conspiracy and pharma companies.

    Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a medical professional of any sort so I cannot offer credentials to back up my theories. I do however have fifty two years’ experience of living with my own ADHD and the same number of years living with all the other monsters that inhabit the earth.

    I was born in 1964 and by 1968 started to show all the hallmarks of being a “bold child”

    I was described as.






    What I felt was





    You see I didn’t know I was a rude, disruptive, disorganised, rebellious kid. All I knew was that I was different.

    I saw things in a different way, I saw the world around me in too many colours and heard it in too many sounds. It was a terrifying place where everything moved too fast and situations developing too quickly for me to understand or control.

    I became confused and disoriented in group situations. I couldn’t play team sports because all the shouting and running and rules equated to conflicting signals that I could not decode.

    (Sensory overload)

    I was labelled lazy, not a team player, a loner.

    A bully; At times I tried to slow the game down and I hurt people.

    I could not cope with group conversations where several people were talking at once because my brain tried to lock-in on and decode all of the separate strands of the various conversations and my head would feel like it was burning.

    I was labelled






    I knew I was none of those things. I was still unaware of ADHD.

    A practical demonstration of ADHD

    Imagine for a moment “That” movie in which the hero has been beaten over the head with a club.

    Picture the scene in the hospital bed when the hero wakes to a fuzzy reality.

    The director wanted to show “disorientation” and “confusion”

    so the sound track is noise

    layered over more noise

    layered over strands of disjointed conversation.

    The screen flickers from one disorienting scene to the next, faces swimming in and out of focus.

    Are you getting the picture?

    Now imagine living in that state permanently. For me all group situations where that frightening. The order of the school room was fine, the chaos of the playground was a nightmare.

    The bold boy grows up.

    I grew up as a loner, wild and uncontrollable, or at least that was the image I projected

    “Bold” was the “box” I was placed in

    The “label” attached said “open with caution”

    I was a bold kid. I was judged as a brat and spent my younger years carrying that label and its attached stigma. I was not invited to other kid’s birthday parties, I was not picked for football games, I was the butt of jokes. I was bullied by older kids and feared by younger ones.

    I had a temper and I was six feet four inches tall by the time I was twelve years old, when I acted out, releasing my pent up frustration, I was liable to do damage. I bent myself in half trying hard to conform but it was not possible.

    A little about Filters

    For a “Neuro-normals” (Norms) social interactions are easy, the Norms have built in filters that separate thought from word and so they “Say the right thing” “Do the right thing” exercise tact.

    Understand this. For an ADHD person it is difficult to control impulsivity.

    We tend to say what is on our mind with little thought to consequence, we tend to “do now” rather than wait for the right moment. We are not known for out tact.

    This impulsivity (Unfiltered behaviour) can make us unpopular and it follows us all of our lives. It is not something we can control unaided.

    A practical illustration of the agony of ADHD

    Do you remember the Jim Carey movie Liar Liar?

    Carey, (An ADHD sufferer) plays a character who as a corporate lawyer is known as a liar.

    Because of his son’s birthday wish Carey’s character is left unable to control the words coming out of his own mouth.

    He cannot lie,

    He must speak the truth even though it will impact negatively on him and on his clients.

    We laugh at the agony of this joker who despite his inability to lie, still possessed a brain that knows immediately the damage he is doing by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

    Hilarious wasn’t it?

    Now imagine living the life of that character 24/7.

    This propensity to speak out included me telling teachers and lecturers exactly what I thought of them, often with hilarious results.

    It later led to me telling employers what I thought of them often leading to periods of enforced unemployment.

    I spoke out and my regret was instant but always too late, I hurt people and I hated myself for it.

    I was labelled





    A trouble maker

    I knew I was different, I knew I lacked certain social graces, I felt handicapped. I shunned the company of strangers and often even the company friends. (I still do) I was still unaware of ADHD

    I found it difficult to hold down a job and so was for most of my working life self-employed.

    I was judged as.


    A bully



    A liar


    I was almost 40 years old before I began to understand WHY I was different, it took another four or five years to accept and reconcile myself to the diagnosis of ADHD.

    At first I struggled with the label but as I came to understand more about it and as I saw my son growing up with it I eventually came to embrace it and to see it not as JUST a curse but I began to see the positive side of ADHD. I began to see its potential as a force that could be harnessed.

    The Name





    Is a bit misleading and tends to trip up people like “Mr Know It All”

    Those who have plenty to say without ever having read any of the real research

    The clever fuckers who have educated themselves by way of Facebook and those funny memes you sometimes see.

    So…… Let me clarify the name as it applies to my experience and what it means to me.


    It is currently 5:35am on Monday 19th of September, I started writing this essay at 3AM and I have, in the same time period, written two poems and read a number of pieces on various websites and here I am at, now 5:36 with 1033 words of this piece completed.

    I would say I am pretty much focused on getting this job done and dusted and I will lose a night’s sleep to achieve it.

    That has been my story always. I lock-on to something and I become super focused, I want to do the best job possible. This need to be really good at things has been exemplified in my forays into Photography, Gardening, Farming, Writing, Web design etc. I aim high and will not rest until I achieve my goals, I am not satisfied with being OK or Average. I MUST be the best I can be.


    So where’s the deficit? You ask

    The deficit is that while I am hyper-focused on those things that drive me, I lose sight of all other things. I lose sleep, I ignore my children (Never for long) I neglect other simple duties, I sometimes forget to eat, wash, exercise. I become so focused I lose sight of all the other very important things.

    I strived to complete, compete and be the best, photographer, and gardener, web designer, etc. that I could be and when I achieved a level that was acceptable to me I would often quit.

    (Writing & Horses have been constants in my life and I think now that they will remain so forever because they have become so deeply ingrained that they may well be coded into my DNA ?)


    Yup, the hyperactivity is evidenced by the drive to be more than good at something, the desire to be among the best or at the very least to be the best that I can be.

    This hyperactivity manifests in research, hands on experience, continual learning, browsing of websites, libraries, archives trying to imbibe as much information as I possibly can on the subject which is biting me at that time.

    It involves such immersion in my passions that as I said earlier I often lose sight of other important things. It involves a driving need to know and understand the subject right down to its nuts and bolts.

    ADHD people are never happy to understand part of a process, they rebel against the illogical nature of starting something in the middle, they will never be satisfied with half answers, they do not want to “round up” or “round down” they want and demand absolutes.

    If I garden then I must grow all of my plants from seed or from cuttings, I must understand the culture of every plant in my garden, I must know their needs and their habits and then I can be a good gardener. When I achieve this level of expertise I may very well lose all interest in the garden and allow it become wild and unkempt.


    I have heard ADD/ADHD called a disease, I object strongly to that as it is by definition NOT a disease.

    I also object to its classification as a disorder unless we first accept that a massive percentage of the human population suffer from a dis-order.

    A practical demonstration of Normal v ADD/ADHD

    -1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1 0 +1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1

    The 0 in the centre is Mr Neuro-normal. he is a freak, a dead centre type of guy who is not a dreamer or a schemer, he thinks INSIDE the box only, he has NO flare No quirks, No exceptional talents, he thinks at average speed, he reads what he needs to read, he learns what he needs to learn and he retains information for as long as he needs it.

    Mr Neuro-Normal will never invent anything, will never make a scientific break-through. He will never write a book of any value. He will never have a Eureka moment.

    Mr Neuro-Normal is the most boring guy you will ever meet. Thankfully Mr Neuro-Normal is pretty much non-existent because all humans have unique thoughts and unique insights, we all have foibles.

    The Normals

    To Mr Neuro-Normal’s left are the “Norms”

    Mr -1×10 is an ultra-conservative thinker who sees the world in black and white, he is tactful, thoughtful, unselfish. He will never create waves, he adheres to the status quo and is happy that way. He is normal to the extent of abnormality.

    Mr -1×5 is your average Joe, a guy who contributes to the world, is known to swear from time to time, is a persuasive arguer, and is passionate about many things. He is restrained by his (- minus) from acting out his passions, or taking his argument to the next level, he is restrained by his filters. He seldom acts on impulse or pursues his dreams, he is a responsible solid citizen

    The Crazy ones

    To the right of Mr Neuro-Normal are those who are the crazies. Those on the Autism Spectrum

    Mr +1×10 is profoundly autistic, often demonstrating signs of genius. He is locked into a condition where he functions outside of the realms of our normality and so he is considered abnormal.

    Mr +1×5 is very similar to Mr -1X5 except his brain does not place filters on his thoughts, he acts on his passions and he will argue his point vehemently. He is likely to be a good debater, a logical thinker and a generally decent all round citizen.

    Mr +1X5 is likely to be inventive, persuasive and likely to do well in business. He will also be a low grade ADD/ADHD person though not diagnosed as such because he is close enough to neuro-normal to be acceptable to society’s view of normal.

    As we work our way up through Mr +1×6 to Mr +1×9 we work our way through ADHD/ ADD & Asperger’s Syndrome.

    These people are the ones who “Mr Know It All” thinks are fakers, those that need a good “Twack on the arse” And those who become zombies when they are administered drugs such as Ritalin or Concerta.

    The people on the +side of the scale are those who excel at cryptic thinking, they contribute to society by exception, they are likely to be less respectful of laws and rules that they disagree with. They are creative, inventive, do not except limitations, think outside the box. They are seldom team players but often leaders.

    They are often either unemployed or self-employed, many run large businesses that they grew from scratch. They are often only average parents or worse. They are seldom happy with the status quo.

    These are the ADHD People.

    They include some of the most successful business people on the planet, here is a sample of

    some very successful people with ADHD

    some of the most creative artists, actors, innovators. These are the people that are judged as having a disorder. I don’t agree unless, as I said we view over half the world population as having a disorder.

    So what about the medication:

    I am coming to the close of this piece and I have, in stereo-typical ADHD fashion, yet to address the issue of medication which “Mr Know It All” claims turns us crazies into Zombies. He would rather administer corporal punishment to the “bold” kids.

    He believes that we are drugging kids into a state of sameness, that we are robbing their individuality.

    I can tell you categorically that Mr Know It All is an idiot who has no idea what he is talking about.

    My first encounter with medication for ADHD was the use of Ritalin on my son who was diagnosed early with ADHD. I was of course worried about this drug and its potential to do him harm, I researched side effects and found little to scare me. I still watched him closely, check daily for changes in behaviour or attitude. In other words I was monitoring him for signs of Zombie transformation. It never happened, my son remained a unique individual who thought outside the box, asked weird and wonderful questions, spoke his mind.

    The medication simply helped him to filter the excesses of his ADHD. He still thinks the same thoughts but he does not verbalise everything. He can focus on study and homework but his mind still surfs the edges of clouds and chases impossible dreams. He is not judged as BOLD, he has a great bunch of friends, he is popular and socially adept.

    I took Ritalin myself for the first time in 2009. It didn’t alter me in any way, it didn’t cause fangs to protrude or hair to grow in unexpected places. It did allow me that extra few seconds to think before I spoke, it allowed me to focus on singular things. I still take Ritalin when I am facing difficult situations but I am not a regular user.

    At fifty two years of age I know who I am. I embrace my ADHD. It makes me what I am, it has been a curse at times but has mostly been a blessing.

    I look at my son who is turning into a complex, multi-layered adult who sees the world in a thousand colours and hears it in a cacophony of noise, none of which frighten him.

    I do not feel hard done by because I was born as Mr +1×6

    I do however feel thankful that I am not Mr Neuro-normal, how awful would that be.

    Thank you for reading

    -Dave Kavanagh

  • Abu Nudnik

    It’s a revolving door. Doctors don’t have time to do their due diligence. So it’s the scrip. A tragedy.

  • Victory

    An outside reason for any type of “mental” illness is NEVER approached. Vaccinations which are absolutely deadly and anyone that doubts this need only go to the United States Patent Office and type in the vaccine which are filled with aborted fetal tissue, chimera and so much more filth. How about looking at the absolute perverseness of society today? There are many external reasons for so called Bi-Polar, ADD, ADHD….etc it has become a Pharmecutical Bonaza of PROFIT at the expense of every man, woman and child and the absurd notion that a “pill” can fix it is just more evil. It is an insidious lie…all of it. Wake up….1980 has come and gone….stop playing the mind games…educate yourselves…we have a duty to protect ourselves and our children and right now….we are failing miserably…..