Improved Cognitive Performance in Children and Adolscents with ADHD

New Studies Suggest Fidgeting Is Related to Improved Cognitive Performance in Children and Adolscents with ADHD

Dr Shelley Hyman

Contemporary research has suggested that the tendency of children and adolescents with ADHD to fidget may be beneficial and could be associated with an improvement in cognitive performance.

Researchers at the UC Mind Institute explored the relationship between movement and cognitive performance in children and adolescents with ADHD. The study explored the intensity and frequency of movement while  performing cognitive tasks.

The study comprised of a sample of 26 children and adolescents with a diagnosis of ADHD. Participants were asked to complete a cognitive task which required a high level of concentration. Throughout the duration of the cognitive task, the movement levels of all participants was monitored through a device which was attached to their ankle.

Researchers found that levels of accuracy on the cognitive task were significantly improved when participants were engaging in higher levels of movement.

This research was supported by a study conducted at the University of Central Florida utilising a sample of 52 boys between the ages of 8 to 12. 29 of the children had a diagnosis of ADHD, while 23 exhibited normal development.

The task involved the children being shown a jumble of numbers and a letter that flashed on a screen. The children were recorded on camera and their level of concentration and attention was estimated by research assistants. The children were asked to put the numbers in order, followed by the letter.

Results of the study suggested that in children with ADHD higher levels of movement were associated with greater accuracy on the task. Conversely, higher levels of movement in children who did not have ADHD was associated with lower accuracy.

Researchers have suggested that children and adolescents with ADHD may find movement is stimulating, increasing their arousal levels and resulting in higher levels of attention. Dr Mark Rapport reflects that the study indicates that the fidgeting and movement that is exhibited by children with ADHD serves a specific purpose

The results of these studies suggest that fidgeting is a helpful mechanism employed by children and adolescents with ADHD, which may ultimately increase cognitive performance. Instead of punishing or discouraging children with ADHD from fidgeting, this study suggested that in the context of a classroom, fidgeting should be allowed so long as it does not disturb the rest of the class.


  • Hartanto, T. A.,  Krafft, E. C., Iosif, A. M., & Schweitzer, B. J. (2015) A trial-by-trial analysis reveals more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child Neuropsychology. DOI: 10.1080/09297049.2015.1044511
  • Sarver, E. D.,  Rapport, D. M., Kofler, J. M., Raiker, S. J., & Friedman, M. L. (2015) Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, DOI: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1
Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.