The Journal of Abnormal Psychology published research to determine if hyperactivity with ADHD is a deficit or a compensatory behavior. The researchers compared the working memory (WM) performance and attention in boys aged 8–12 years with ADHD (n = 29) and typically developing children (TD; n = 23). Each child’s phonological WM and attentive behavior was evaluated during four counterbalanced WM tasks during four separate sessions. The data was then sequenced hierarchically based on behavioral observations of each child’s gross motor activity during each task.
The results indicated the following:
1. higher rates of activity level predicted significantly better, but not normalized WM performance for children with ADHD.
2. higher rates of activity level predicted somewhat lower WM performance for TD children.
3. variations in movement did not predict changes in attention for either group.
4. children with ADHD were more likely to be classified as reliably improved in their WM performance at their highest versus lowest activity level.
5. the typically developing children were more likely to be classified as deteriorated in their WM performance at their highest versus lowest observed activity level.
The researchers concluded that there is a functional role to hyperactivity in ADHD and recommend avoiding overcorrection of g gross motor activity during academic tasks that rely on phonological WM.
The lead author of the study, Dustin Sarver, discusses with National Public Radio that “We think that part of the reason is that when they’re moving more they’re increasing their alertness”. He goes on to explain that a level of alertness functions on a “rainbow curve.” “You want to maintain a “Goldilocks” level of alertness — not too much, not too little. That’s why moving around didn’t help the typically developing kids; it might even have distracted them”.
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Dustin E. Sarver, Mark D. Rapport, Michael J. Kofler, Joseph S. Raiker, Lauren M. Friedman. Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. April 2015. DOI 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1.
Kamenetz, A. Vindication For Fidgeters: Movement May Help Students With ADHD Concentrate. Retreived from the web on 8/19/15 from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/05/14/404959284/fidgeting-may-help-concentration-for-students-with-adhd.
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