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Hyperactive Hearts & Minds:
Towards a Unified View of Attention Difficulties

Adapted from workshops presented by Carla (Nelson) Berg
at the Midwinter Brain Sciences Colloquium in Palm Springs,
February 1997 and 1998

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These excess energies can come out out through either the head, the heart or the body, in excess thinking, feeling or doing


Once you lay out the symptoms of AD on a spectrum from hypo to hyperfocusing, the next concept that comes up to question the notion that hyperactivity is only physical or kinetic. Across the population of people who have been diagnosed ADD, as we began to explore in the last point, it is clear we see hypermentation as well as hyperkinesis. Hyperkinesis is only the most visible form of hyperactivity -- and the most likely to go underground with age when maturity deepens restraint.

The excess energies an ADer generates in those "too much" places can come out in either body or mind, as excess thinking, feeling or doing. In seminars for support groups, I call it the "Excess Express," and ask participants to consider if they are more often overactive in head, heart or body.

This paradigm is thus built on the premise that hyperactivity can manifest in either excess physical or mental activity, alone or combined, as shown below:


  • kinetic: excess motoric activity; gross motor may be expressed as the whole body motion of hyperkinesis and fine motor as twitches or tics
  • sensate: hypersensitivity to physical sensation such as taste, touch, sound or smell, sometimes seen in tandem with other traits of "hyperactive" neurology such as allergies or autoimmune anamolies


  • cognitive: extra-intense cogitation; may intensify a negative trait (e.g. perserveration) or amplify a positive state (e.g. the 'flow' of high creativity)
  • emotive: emotional hypersensitivity; again may intensify a negative state (e.g. anxiety) or amplify a positive trait (e.g. sensitivity to the feelings of others)

To sum it up another way, someone with an attention difficulty could be hypermental, hyperemotive or hyperkinesthetic, or blend aspects of all three.

Threads of Traits Weave Through Types
Once you agree that hyperactivity can be either mental or physical, many more loose parts of this puzzle find a place to settle, and many more patterns come up to consider.

To take one example: The Trait Threads exhibit we just previewed sketches how some traits might ebb and flow across this spectrum. In it we can see that incidence of hyperkinesis rises on both ends, but dips in the middle. In the middle instead you often find strands of hypoactivity, perhaps because the middle is also where you begin to see overlaps with traits of depression. My "spectrum sandwich" exhibit in the next point details this point a bit more in a different form.

Another example: hypersenstivity to taste, touch, sound and smell is most commonly seen on the right, towards the hyperfocusing side. On the far left you are more likely to see its mirror opposite, hyposensitivity, as the hypofocusing band is also where you're also more likely to find the impulsive physical risk and thrill-seeking that suggest a drive to heighten sensation.

Again, however, it is important to note these are general trends, and hypothetical ones at that. I do not propose, for example, that a hyperfocusing Type 3 will rarely engage in physically risky activity or impulsively indulge in physical thrill, merely such behaviors may be less frequent on the hyperfocusing side, given that hypersensitivity may also be present to act as a counterweight inducing constraint.

This is may also be a time when it is helpful to be reminded again how the horizontal view we are looking at now compares to the matrix view which employs rows and columns. This exhibit portrays one set of information both ways, in this case periodicity, i.e. how short or long the attention and arousal of each type tends to be across the whole continuum of nine degrees.

That leads to the next point I want to make, about the importance of time itself as a variable in this paradigm.


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Carla (Nelson) Berg
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