Sitting Still for Star Wars: Children with ADHD only Squirm when they Learn

Learning generates squirming in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), finds a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Central Florida. Children with ADHD experience deficits in attention, combined with excess physical activity. The new findings show that children with ADHD wriggle and squirm twice as much as typically developing children when attempting to learn. Activity surplus likely results from inefficient attention processes.

How Attention Works

According to the reputed hypothesis by Professor Alan Baddeley, working memory systems in the brain temporarily hold and manipulate information from short and long-term memory via the Central Executive System. The Central Executive sifts information and sorts it by importance. Baddeley claims that important information either remains in active use, or moves to long-term storage. According to his hypothesis, swift processing of information leads to increased attention and increased attention improves learning.

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According to Baddeley, the Central Executive sifts information between short and long-term memory systems.


Learning for Children with ADHD

Tasks requiring high concentration may prove difficult for children with ADHD because of deficits in working memory.

The study examined thirty-two boys with ADHD and thirty typically developing boys (all aged 8-12 years) through memorisation tasks. According to the University of Central Florida researchers, short-term memorisation tasks assess working memory strength. The tasks tested the boys’ ability to remember numbers and sequences for a short period. Typically developing boys outperformed boys with ADHD on all working memory tasks. These results appear to confirm diminished working memory processes in children with ADHD.

Squirming and Learning

Diminished working memory probably decreases concentration and promotes attention shifts. Children with decreased concentration may move their focus to more attention-grabbing stimulus. Squirming and fidgeting likely arise from frequent attention shifts.

All boys in the study watched a ten-minute educational video. Boys with ADHD moved twice as much as the typically developing boys during the learning task. According to results, poor working memory accounted for at least fifty-six percent of the inattentive behaviour.

Sitting Still for Star Wars

The two groups of boys also watched a ten-minute exert from a Star Wars film. The excerpt featured a fast paced pod race. Researchers claim that rapid paced scenes, such as the Star Wars excerpt do not tax working memory. Attention rates did not differ between the two groups. All boys sat riveted.

Results suggest children with ADHD can sit still when they choose, or rather, when the task does not tax working memory. Video games and drawing elicit similar results.


Baddeley, A. (2010). Working memory. Current Biology, 20(4), R136-R140. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.12.014

Orban, S.A., Rapport, M.D., Friedman, L.M..Eckrich, S.J., & Kofler, M.J. (2017) Inattentive behaviour in boys with ADHD during classroom: the mediating role of working memory processes. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1-15.


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