This study investigated whether students in grades 5 and 6 learned better when seated proximally to the teacher during a virtual classroom math lesson, taking individual levels of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity (i.e., ADHD symptoms) into account. In general, students learned better in the proximal seat location compared to a distant one. Additionally, more intense symptom levels impaired learning more. When considering individual levels of ADHD symptoms, students’ learning outcomes did not specifically benefit from a proximal seat location. Consequently, the present study did not support the general assumption that a proximal seat location fosters academic achievement in students experiencing individual levels of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.
Every student does not pay attention, is overly active, or acts impulsively at times, and hence sometimes exhibits behavior subsumed under the term ADHD1 symptoms (APA, 2013; DeYoung & Rueter, 2017; DuPaul & Stoner, 2014; Levy, Hay, McStephen, Wood, & Waldman, 1997). Inattention refers to a generalized absent-mindedness or failure to pay close attention to details that is expected to emerge from a lack of effortful attention control (APA, 2013; Martel, Nigg, & von Eye, 2008). Hyperactive-impulsive behaviors are hectic, lack conscious control, and incorporate a high level of physical activity (APA, 2013). They are assumed to serve to constantly redirect an individual's attentional focus to novel or more salient stimuli, due to an inability to control immediate incentive and affective responses (Martel et al., 2008). However, whereas all students experience these symptoms at times, the majority should experience them at clinically insignificant intensity levels (DuPaul, Gormley, & Laracy, 2017; Lubke, Hudziak, Derks, van Bijsterveldt, & Boomsma, 2009; Polderman et al., 2007). Only a small minority of students - approximately five percent - are diagnosed with ADHD, and hence experience clinically significant symptom levels (Polanczyk, de Lima, Horta, Biederman, & Rohde, 2007).
The present study was the first to take students’ individual levels of ADHD symptoms into account when assessing the relation between seat location and academic achievement. One substantial strength of the present study was its use of a virtual reality classroom, thus guaranteeing a highly standardized experimental setting controlling for the influence of confounding variables. The results of the present study supported the assumption that all students benefit from sitting proximally to the teacher with respect to learning results. However, students with higher individual levels of ADHD symptoms did not specifically benefit from a proximal seat location. Consequently, the present investigation did not support the common assumption that seat locations proximal to the teacher specifically foster academic achievement in students experiencing increased levels of ADHD symptoms.