The Optimal Stimulation Theory for the Children With ADHD

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most known diagnoses among children. Approximately .85% to 10% of the school-aged population have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States (Vostal, Lee, & Miller, 2013). Among that population, only three to five percent of children and adolescents are provided with adjustments to their school curriculum, yet effective strategies are still needed for children to succeed in school (Vostal, Lee, & Miller, 2013). Children with ADHD are prone to become distracted in the classroom; thus, one common assumption is to remove any stimuli that may detract the child. Removing objects from the child that diverts attention may be beneficial, but research has shown that environmental stimuli can be beneficial. First, pupils interested in this concept must understand the definition of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association (2013) describes ADHD as demonstrating hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors in common patterns in which it interferes within two or more settings in a child’s life. Children with ADHD will express certain behaviors such as constantly speak out of turn, interrupt people’s conversations, fidgeting in their seats, lose materials necessary for a task, become unorganized in their materials, and become overwhelmed with their schoolwork. Given this description, it is safe to assume that accommodations in the classroom are necessary to manage the child. For example, the teacher may try to isolate the student from the class so that he or she will not bother anyone. The teacher may also try to remove any materials from the walls and desk in order for the child to focus on the lecture. Teachers speculate that removing stimuli will help the child focus more on their work.

Recent research resulted that children with ADHD may in fact need stimuli to perform better in their schoolwork. Researchers discovered the optimal stimulation theory that may help explain why students with ADHD behave impulsively and are inattentive. The optimal stimulation theory claims that human beings need a certain amount of stimulation in order for them to be able to focus on a task (Vostal, Lee, & Miller, 2013). Researchers who agree with this theory explain that organisms are delicate with their surroundings and having too much or too little stimulation can cause a person to either become distracted or conduct disruptive behavior to maintain that level (Vostal, Lee, & Miller, 2013). This theory helps explain the dynamics behind children with ADHD, perhaps children become disruptive when they need stimulation within their setting or become distracted when they have too much of it.

Zentall and Kruczek (1988) provided the earliest research on the optimal stimulation theory by having participants do a brightly colored worksheet and compared it to the results of participants doing the same task but on a white colored worksheet. Their study resulted in a significant difference between the two groups, where the participants who did their work on brightly colored paper performed better than the participants who had the white colored worksheet (Zentall & Kruczek, 1988). This early form of research provided an initiative to study more about the optimal stimulation theory

Afterwards, there has been minimal but encouraging research that supports the optimal stimulation theory. Kercood and Banda (2012) had participants with attention problems perform tasks while either doodling or sitting on a yoga ball. All participants improved in their work and even finished the task sooner when compared to participants who had no stimulation at all (Kercood & Banda, 2012). Another study provided by Antrop, Roeyers, Van Oost, and Buysse (2000) studied the lengths it would take for participants to become impatient during a waiting situation with and without stimulation. Results showed that participants with no stimulation expressed more impulsive behaviors when compared to participants who had stimulation.

In detail, optimal stimulation theory can be explained through stochastic resonance. Stochastic resonance is a phenomenon that explores the biological factors and explains how stimulation affects human beings internally (Soderlund, Silkstrom, & Smart, 2007). Stochastic resonance defines external noise through the perceptual system and exchanges it into internal noise inside the human body. Humans use that internal noise to create a threshold of how much noise it can process. The threshold depletes any extra internal noise from emerging to the brain, which prevents dopamine from firing. Low levels of dopamine results in the person seeking stimulation. In order for the internal noise to surpass the threshold, the external noise must be consistent and of high energy (Soderlund, Sikstrom, & Smart, 2007). With the right amount of external noise, dopamine levels kick in and add the necessary stimulation that is needed in the brain.

Studies claim that children with ADHD have low levels of dopamine (Soderlund, Kikstrom, & Smart, 2007). Therefore, adding stimulation, such as white noise, should be beneficial for their cognitive performance. One study by Baijot et al. (2016) added white noise to the setting while participants performed a task. A controlled group did the same experimentation but without white noise. Researchers found white noise to help participants be less inattentive and expressed less impulsive acts (Baijot et al., 2016).

Due to the evidence of past research, environmental stimulation, such as white noise, may show a difference in cognitive performance among children with ADHD. The primary goal of this study is to investigate whether environmental stimulation will help children with ADHD complete more work in a certain amount of time compared to children with ADHD who do not have environmental stimulation. In detail, this study will provide white noise as the environmental stimulation in support of the optimal stimulation theory. We hypothesize that children who are in the white noise setting will complete more work in a certain amount of time when compared to children who are in a setting with no environmental stimulation.



We will randomly distribute flyers, targeting the parents, among different elementary and middle schools. The flyers will inform parents about the goal of the research, and the requirements needed in order for their child to participate. We do not want to target special education classrooms, since it will rule out the population targeted and may disrupt the privacy of the children. We are aiming to gather 30 children who are primarily diagnosed with ADHD and no other learning disability or mental disorder that can interfere with cognitive performance of the participants.

Materials and Procedures

The setting will be set in a laboratory built as a classroom. The classroom will include the same materials as in as ordinary classroom: whiteboard, desks, school materials, charts, and a couple of educational posters on the walls. The desks will be in groups with five desks per groups, since this is the strategy most elementary and some middle school classrooms are setup.

The research will be conducted twice in two different settings. In the first trial, there will be no white noise involved and participants will do the task in silence. Participants will enter the classroom, choose a place to sit at, and will be informed of the classroom rules and an explanation of assignment. The assignment will be a mathematic worksheet with 50 problems and will be within the participants’ grade level. Participants will only have five minutes to complete the worksheet, but are not expected to finish the whole worksheet. After the explanation of the expectations, children will begin the assignment on the teacher’s cue. After the five minutes, the participants will turn in their worksheet and step out of the classroom. We will record the amount of math problems the participants could complete within those five minutes.

Two weeks later, the same participants will be tested again in an experimental setting. In this second trial, participants will do a similar math worksheet of 50 problems in their grade level under white noise audio. Participants will enter the classroom, sit in the same seat from the first trial, and will be informed with the same classroom rules and explanation of the assignment from the first trial. Participants will work on the assignment within five minutes while a recording of white noise plays in the background. The teacher will turn on the white noise audio at the same time that students start their assignment. Participants will be informed when the five minutes will be over and will turn in their assignment to the teacher. We will calculate the amount of problems the participants could complete under environmental stimulation and compare it to the data from the first trial.


Since this study is a research proposal, we will not be able to state any results from the research. However, we will claim that this research will be a within subjects design. The data will be tested by a dependent t test, since there were only two groups in the independent level. The descriptive statistics necessary are as followed: mean, median, mode, standard deviation, variance, and range.


If the research shows that there is a significant difference between the two settings, the results will help determine strategies to help children with ADHD perform better in school. Children with ADHD have a difficult time doing their school work and end up failing the class. If environmental stimulation, such as white noise, will help children complete more of their work, than imagine the strengths these children can portray to become successful in life. Children should not be limited due to their disabilities, but instead learn how to accommodate with it.

This study was a start to explore the benefits of environmental stimulation, but this research still has its limitation. One limitation is testing the quality of the participant’s answers and determining how many answers they got correct. Testing this aspect can help determine if the participant was doing their work impulsively due to the pressure of finishing the work on time. Another limitation is the amount of problems given to the participants under a limited time.

Although participants are not expected to complete all the problems, the amount of work presented can make a participant who has ADHD overwhelmed with the work. This problem is common among children with ADHD and can affect the data of future research. Along with this limitation, five minutes may have been excessive or inadequate of time for students to complete the work. Future research should time the length it takes for a child to finish a worksheet instead of giving them a limit.

The optimal stimulation theory helps explain the symptoms of ADHD. With further research, children with ADHD can benefit from this theory and can succeed in the classroom. These children can also learn more about their diagnoses and determine what works best with them. If children acknowledge which accommodations suit them, they can take that knowledge throughout their lives and further their education. Children should not be limited on what they can do because of their disabilities. These children have the right to succeed along with their peers and should be recognized for their strengths such as everyone else.

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