Children and teenagers who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD tend to perform more accurately on attention-demanding tasks when their bodies are moving rather than still, according to a study in Child Neuropsychology. The study reinforces other studies that have suggested that children with ADHD may be “using” physical movement in some way to help focus their attention.
“For the study, the authors recruited 26 children with validated ADHD diagnoses and 18 who were developing typically,” described a press release about the study from researchers at the MIND Institute at the University of California. “The participants’ movements were measured by affixing a device to their ankles that measured their level of activity while completing a ‘flanker test’ that requires good attention and the ability to inhibit paying attention to distractions.”
The children were aged 10-17. Notably, many of the children diagnosed with ADHD were taking medications regularly and were required to suddenly stop taking the medications prior to the test. “All participants prescribed medication did not take it for 24 hours before the experimental testing session,” explained the authors. “Of the 26 ADHD participants, 18 had a history of taking stimulant medication (15 were currently prescribed stimulant medication) and 4 had a history of taking non-stimulant medication (1 was currently prescribed non-stimulant medication). Participants started taking medication on average at 10 years of age.”
The authors wrote that, “The groups differed in regard to the intensity of physical activity during correct trials but not incorrect trials, with the ADHD group evidencing more intense rates of activity only for correct trials. This finding suggests that cognitive control functioning in ADHD may be enhanced by more intense activity, or that when a child with ADHD is using more cognitive resources, the child is also more likely to engage in physical activity.”
“One possible mechanism for a relationship between movement and performance is that children with ADHD use movement to self-regulate alertness,” suggested the authors. “Future research should investigate how opportunities for physical activities, particularly ones that are neither disruptive nor stigmatizing, can be used in academic settings to help children perform cognitively-demanding tasks. While there are currently tools on the market (e.g., fidget toys) that allow individuals to fidget without disrupting others, there has not been extensive research on their efficacy. Our findings also suggest that limiting movement in children with ADHD may potentially be detrimental to their cognitive performance.”
The study’s findings are similar to those of another study recently reported on by Mad in America.
Hartanto, T. A., C. E. Krafft, A. M. Iosif, and J. B. Schweitzer. “A Trial-by-Trial Analysis Reveals More Intense Physical Activity Is Associated with Better Cognitive Control Performance in Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder.” Child Neuropsychology 0, no. 0 (June 10, 2015): 1–9. doi:10.1080/09297049.2015.1044511. (Abstract)
Movement in ADHD may help children think, perform better in school (UC Davis press release on MedicalXpress, June 11, 2015)