Open Access Research article

Hyperactivity persists in male and female adults with ADHD and remains a highly discriminative feature of the disorder: a case-control study

Martin H Teicher12*, Ann Polcari123, Nikolaos Fourligas14, Gordana Vitaliano12 and Carryl P Navalta15

Author Affiliations

1 Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA, 02478, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

3 School of Nursing, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA

4 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA

5 Mental Health Counseling & Behavioral Medicine Program, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:190  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-190

Published: 7 November 2012



Symptoms of hyperactivity are believed to fade with age leaving ADHD adults mostly inattentive and impulsive. Our aim was to test this assertion using objective measures of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.


Participants were 40 subjects with ADHD (23M/17F; 35±10 yrs) and 60 healthy adults (28M/32F; 29±9 yrs) blindly assessed using Wender-Reimherr interview ratings, Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Disorders and DSM-IV criteria. Infrared motion capture systems tracked head and leg movements during performance of a No-4’s cognitive control task. Subjects also completed the Conners’ CPT-II.


ADHD and controls differed significantly in activity and attention. Effect sizes for activity measures (d’ = 0.7–1.6) were, on average, two-fold larger than differences in attention or impulsivity, correlated more strongly with executive function ratings and were more discriminatory (ROC area = 0.83 for activity composite, 0.65 for No-4’s distraction composite, 0.63 for Conners’ CPT-II confidence index, 0.96 for the combined activity and attention diagnostic index). This finding was true for subjects with the predominantly inattentive subtype as well as subjects with combined or predominantly hyperactive/impulsive subtype. Males and females with ADHD were equally active. The superior accuracy of activity measures was confirmed using Random Forest and predictive modeling techniques.


Objectively measured hyperactivity persists in adults with ADHD and is a more discriminative feature of the disorder than computerized measures of inattention or impulsivity. This finding supports the hypothesis that a deficient ability to sit still remains a defining feature of the disorder in adults when it is measured objectively.

ADHD; Attention; Hyperactivity; Impulsivity; Laboratory Tests; Biomarkers; Receiver Operating Characteristic; Executive Functions