Objective measurement of motor activity during cognitive performance in adults with attention-deficit⁄hyperactivity disorder

Objective: This study investigates whether hyperactivity, i.e. an increased level of motor activity, can be observed in adults with attention-deficit ⁄ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Method: An infrared motion-tracking system was used to measure motor activity in 20 unmedicated adults with ADHD and 20 matched healthy controls (HC) during a 1-back working memory task.

Results: Motor activity was higher in ADHD. It increased with the duration of testing and co-varied with cognitive performance in ADHD only. Subjective and objective measurements of motor activity were related in HC, but not in ADHD.

Conclusion: Higher levels of motor activity in ADHD are objectively measurable not only in children, but in adults as well. It is linked to cognitive performance arguing against distinguishable diagnostic subtypes. The objective measurement of motor activity seems to extend the description of ADHD symptoms derived from rating scales and might thus help to bridge the gap between psychopathological symptom description and neurobiological alterations.

Significant outcomes

• A higher level of motor activity can be measured objectively in attention-deficit ⁄ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) not only in children, but in adults as well. Differences between ADHD patients and healthy subjects increase with the duration of a cognitive testing situation.
• A higher level of motor activity is accompanied by more severe cognitive impairments in ADHD.
• In contrast to healthy subjects, ADHD patients fail to assess their level of motor activity.


Lis S., Baer N., Stein-en-Nosse C., Gallhofer B., Sammer G., Kirsch P. (2010). Objective measurement of motor activity during cognitive performance in adults with attention-deficit ⁄ hyperactivity disorder. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, p. 1–10.


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