Johanne Telnes Instanes
About the Author

Johanne Telnes Instanes, MD, PhD, is working 50% position at the University of Bergen, Norway. She is investigating the possible effect of mother´s diet during pregnancy on compulsive or impulsive behavioural traits in the child. The research is based on data from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa).

1)  Definition

Hyperactivity is a behavioural trait characterized by overly active behaviour, such as abnormal excessive movements or activities. Typical examples of hyperactivity are excessive talking, fidgeting and restlessness. ­­

2) Description

The extent of hyperactive behaviour can vary between humans and can be described as a so-called dimensional trait. Some people have a high level of hyperactive behaviour, others low, and the majority somewhere in between. For instance, children are naturally more energetic and hyperactive compared to older people, and some children are more hyperactive than other.

In some cases, a high level of hyperactive behaviour may interfere and impair one´s life.  This is the case in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Hyperactivity is one of the core features in ADHD, and related with poor attention and excitability. Examples of hyperactive behaviour as described in the ADHD diagnostic criteria are: 

  • squirms when seated or fidgets with feet/hands
  • incapable of staying seated in class
  • runs about or climbs in situations where this behaviour is not appropriate
  • marked restlessness that is difficult to control
  • difficult to play or engage in leisure activities in a quiet manner
  • acting as if “driven by a motor”, often “on the go”
  • overly talkative

These behaviours can all be regarded normal as such, but for persons with ADHD they happen more often and have more serious consequences. Such behaviour can interfere with functioning at for instance school, work or social life. A child who can’t sit still in class may fail to get information from the teacher or disrupt the work of other classmates. As a result, the academic performance can decrease, and classmates can be frustrated and irritated being interrupted in their work. Jumping ahead of turn is another typical hyperactive behaviour. Although this behaviour often is driven by restlessness and not done deliberately, it may be annoying and considered as insensitive behaviour by others. As a consequence, the child may be rejected and avoided by its classmates, and even bullied.

Adults with ADHD may show similar hyperactive behaviour as children, but the most intense behaviour often decreases over time and is not so easily observed. Hyperactive symptoms in adults often appear in a more subtle way, with inner restlessness, tension and racing thoughts. Although less visible, hyperactive symptoms still may have negative consequences, such as trouble concentrating or hard time relaxing.   


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“Hyperactivity.” In: Porta M and Last J, ed. A Dictionary of Public Health. Second ed. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford Reference. Published online 2018. Accessed 9. Dec. 2021.

“Hyperactivity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster.  Accessed 9. Dec 2021.