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Part 2.9

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

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


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When time becomes the frame of reference, these "separate" traits can be seen to shade from one to the next.


If you looked closely at the pictorial version* of my "Matrix of Inattention" when it first appeared you might have noticed the words "impulsive," "compulsive," and "obsessive" appeared along both the vertical and horizontal axes. You have already seen those same three words appear as captions for the three arousal levels, but this is the first time you have seen them ascribed to the attentional axis as well. Now, having explained the relativity in this paradigm, I can detail why those terms can be said to apply on both sides of the matrix. The key word is comparatively.

Down the vertical axis of arousal, Level 1 arousal is comparatively more impulsive than level 2 or 3. Level 2 arousal is comparatively more compulsive than level 1 or 3. Similarly, level 3 "Hyperarousal" is obsessive as compared to levels 1 and 2. It is the same across the horizontal, or attentional axis, where we see our three types of attention difficulty (AD):

  • The entire underfocusing band, Type 1, is comparatively more prone to impulsivity as a group than either Type 2 or 3 because their focal strength (amplitude) is relatively low compared to the other two, but arousability (frequency) is comparatively high. As we saw in the brain beat metaphor,* their overarousal, when it occurs, tends to express physically in excess motoric activity.
  • The mixed, or alternating, Type 2 band is comparatively more prone to compulsiveness. Once aroused to full focal strength they often overeact into overfocusing, then find it difficult to dampen it. As a group, they thus cycle between over and underfocusing, and when overaroused their excess energies tend to express mentally, in extra-intense thoughts or feelings, more often than excess physicality.
  • Type 3, the hyperfocusing, is comparatively more obsessive than Types 1 or 3, most prone to locking on to "high amplitude thoughts" that may be hard to stop, and quite often prepared to act on those thoughts since they can be overactive both physically and mentally at the same time, combining traits of both hyperkinesthesia and hypermentation.

This slide we saw before (click here to review) portrays this relativity across the entire continuum in both matrix and spectrum view.

Two dimensions turn into three
If we zoom out once more for a wide angle view of the symmetries seen in across the matrix as a whole, another aha! point pops out. As illustrated in the graphic you just saw, this 2- dimensional spectrum that can vary in strength along either axis, alone or combined, contains a third dimension inside: the aspect of time.

Consider: How, in its essence, does "impulse" differ from "obsession"? By how fast it appears, how fast we respond, and how quickly it may be gone. How does "compulsion" differ from "obsession"? Again time is key; compulsions are periodic, start and stop, but obsessions can dominate all one's waking thoughts.

When time becomes the frame of reference, the distinctions we make between these "separate" traits can be seen to shade from one to the next.

A similar symmetry can be seen in the progression of attentional strength from hypo to hyperfocusing. A Type 1 has a disruptible short attention span most of the time, but a Type 2 has weak focal strength only when underaroused, while a Type 3 is overabsorbed so much of the time, the world outside their own minds may barely impinge on their consciousness. Each of them again portray what John Ratey might call a "noisy brain," but to different degrees.

Or to paraphrase our " X Except Not" parody*: In the end, all of them are overengaged only until they are not, but to greater and lesser extents. When viewed in the time dimension, their differences are a matter of degree. This symmetry is underscored in the matrix again when you see terms such as "persistent" or "periodic" echo across all three columns and all three rows.

These patterns, in turn, hint at pointers to other possibilities. Which of these dynamics might help us model distinctions between manifestations of other disorders, such as dysthymia vs. cyclothymia, or unipolar vs bipolar depressiveness? Might some types of AD be more or less predictive of disorders of personality? Which of these patterns might correlate with the neurological irregularities we see along the spectrum of NBD or help us contrast the dynamics between different kinds of learning difficulties?

Other layers of my paradigm approach some of these issues too. I hope next year I will be here again to explore them with you, perhaps along with one of the more highly trained minds who have offered to help "reality check" my work to date and may collaborate on its further development.

Precisely because this paradigm is a "wholistic" view of states of mind, I am always eager for feedback from as many perspectives as I can find. Thus the second hour of this presentation I will be asking to hear from you, not just to answer questions, which I am happy to do, but also to see if some of what I've outlined is evoking any ahas! for you too.

But before we proceed, we will hit the last point on my "Top Ten" list.


Jump to Conclusion


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