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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

Recap of Key Points

To sum up the postulates presented so far:

  • Attention difficulties can be conceptualized as states which arise on the outer sides of the Bell Curve of Attentional Stability. These states represent the interplay of attention and arousal, either of which or both will be especially high or especially low in people with a diagnosible attention difficulty.
  • Attention says how strong our focus will be, but arousal says how long it will last. In the conceptual models of "brain beats," attention equates with amplitude and arousal with frequency.*
  • Juxtaposing high and low focus with high and low arousal as axes on a chart yields a Matrix of Inattentive States across a continuum that increases in length and strength of attentiveness, with three primary types of attention difficulty: Hypofocus (Type 1), Hyperfocus (Type 3), and an alternating Mixed Focus (Type 2) in between.
  • The Type 1 is depicted in the brain beat model with "high frequency/low amplitude attention," i.e. underthinking, combined with overactivity in high arousal. The Type 2, Mixed, generates "high amplitude" in high arousal, i.e. overthinking, which may mix with physical underactivity. The Type 3, Hyperfocus, has both "high amplitude" and "high frequency," i.e. prone to overthinking and overdoing, frequently at the same time.
  • Attention difficulties often correlate with physical or mental "hyperness," either alone or combined. Hyperphysicality may express as either hyperkinesis or hypersensitivity (which may be gross or fine), or both, while the extra-intense cerebration of hypermentation may express cognitively or emotionally, or both.*
  • Threads of hypoactivity -- hypokinesis, hypoarousal and hyposensivity -- also weave through this matrix . Different strands of hypo and hyperactivity may combine in one person at the same time, since continuums within subtypes can also be seen to combine. We saw one depiction of this in what I playfully called the "spectrum sandwich" exhibit.
  • What distinguishes people on this spectrum from the more "modulating" minds at the middle of the bell is how much time they spend in these more intense states, and what it takes to resist or change it, i.e. the chronicity, severity and duration of their "attentional inconsistency."
  • Time is also a distinguishing factor between types in this model. Some are "stickers" who tend to "bounce" in place along one side of this continuum; others are "slippers" who may frequently state-shift between over and underfocusing.
  • Time again is key in demonstrating the context-dependency of attention difficulties. With arousal engaged, attentions switch on. As arousal declines, attention fades. Thus it is not sufficient to ask if focus is weak or strong; we must also ask what turns it on, as what separates "bouncers" from non is the amount of arousal it takes for attention to activate and be sustained.
  • In shorthand form, the framework for this model can be summarized as:

A "3/3/3/9" Paradigm
of Attention Difficulties


a. Three Types of Attentiveness
Hypo, Hyper, Alternating

seen at...

b. Three Levels of Arousal
Hypo, Hyper, Alternating

Yield three main types of attention difficulty..

1. "Roving"
(underattentive/overractive in high arousal)


2. "Restless"
Mixed Focus (Alternating)
(inattentive/non-hyper/often hard to arouse)

3.   "Relentless"

along a spectrum that contains...

c. Nine Degrees of
"Attentional Lability

Ranging from 1.1 (underaroused underfocusing)
to 3.3 (hyperaroused hyperfocusing)

copyright 1998, Carla  Nelson Berg
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