December 1974

Pathophysiology of the Hyperactive Child Syndrome

Author Affiliations

From the Section on Research (Dr. Satterfield) and the Hyperkinetic Children's Clinic (Mrs. Satterfield), Gateways Hospital; the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles (Dr. Satterfield); and the School of Medicine, Center for the Health Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles (Dr. Cantwell).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1974;31(6):839-844. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1974.01760180079010

Is there a disturbance of the central nervous system (CNS) that underlies the disturbed behavior of some hyperactive children? Results from four studies are presented that suggest that some hyperactive children may be characterized as having a low CNS arousal level. Evidence from animal and human neurophysiological studies suggests that this low arousal level may be accompanied by low levels of inhibition in the CNS.

A neurophysiological model of low CNS arousal and inhibition, explains in part the hyperactive child's disorganized and disruptive behavior. The essence of this model is lack of inner controls over motor output and sensory input, resulting in behavioral and learning problems. Stimulant medications are viewed as restoring both CNS arousal and inhibitory levels to normal, providing the child with better controls and permitting a wider range of behavioral patterns.