Hyperactivity is one of the core features of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and yet there is evidence that hyperactive behavior in children with ADHD is not ubiquitous and could be a compensatory response to high cognitive demands. No research has yet objectively measured hyperactive behavior in young children who are demonstrating early signs of ADHD or examined the role of emotional state on hyperactivity levels.The current study measured motor activity using actigraphy during baseline, cognitive inhibition (Flanker task), and emotion arousing (Impossibly Perfect Circles task) conditions in 95 children aged 4–7 years old with developmental difficulties, including emerging symptoms of ADHD. We examined the relationship between objectively recorded activity, parent-rated hyperactivity problems, using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and cognitive inhibition task performance.Parent ratings of hyperactivity (but not inattention) symptoms were positively related to recorded hyperactivity, and this relationship was specific to activity measured during the cognitive inhibition task. Impaired cognitive inhibition performance was related to increased measured movement and this association was strongest in children who were rated as having the highest levels of hyperactive behavior.These findings confirm theoretically predicted associations between objectively recorded hyperactivity and impaired executive functioning and support the notion that hyperactivity in children emerges in response to high cognitive demands. The results encourage further investigation into the role of hyperactivity as a transdiagnostic dimension that can explain variation within and between different types of diagnostic classifications.
NOTE: This study used the CamNtech Actiwave Cardio which was discontinued in Jan 2019 – The direct replacement is Actiheart 5 which offers superior performance.