A person can display behavior that seeks positive or negative attention. Both children and adults may display attention-seeking behavior.

Attention-seeking behavior can appear as acting out, excessive displays of emotion, or continuously seeking praise and affirmation.

There may be an underlying cause for attention-seeking behavior, such as a personality disorder in adults. In some cases, this type of behavior may be an attempt to seek help or support.

This article looks at how attention-seeking behavior may present in adults and children, possible causes, and treatment options.

In adults, attention-seeking behavior may include the following:

  • using social media to fulfill a need for affirmation and going to greater lengths to gain comments, likes, shares, reposts, and attention from friends or followers
  • displaying issues with boundaries with others
  • being overly dramatic or emotional in public
  • feeling ignored if they are not the center of attention
  • seeking out compliments or validation from others
  • pretending they are unable to carry out a task to receive help and attention from others
  • exaggerating or embellishing to gain more praise or sympathy from others
  • being controversial to gain a reaction
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If a child is seeking attention, they may:

  • yell or scream
  • run away
  • push or hit others
  • disobey or break rules
  • ignore instructions
  • cry or have emotional displays even when they are not upset

Children may also seek positive attention.

Although these are behaviors that are typical of children, people may deem them attention-seeking behaviors depending on their severity, frequency, and duration.

Is it a sign of a neurodevelopmental condition?

A child with a neurodevelopmental condition may display behaviors that others perceive to be attention-seeking.

For example, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may display the following behaviors:

  • impulsive behavior
  • fidgeting or difficulty sitting still
  • interrupting others
  • speaking at inappropriate times
  • grabbing items from other people or not waiting their turn

Autistic children may display behavior that appears to be hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive. They may also react strongly to changes in routine and engage in repetitive behaviors, such as:

  • rocking the body
  • flapping the hands
  • spinning in circles

Causes of attention-seeking behavior may include:

  • low self-esteem, which may cause people to seek support through strategies such as displaying sadness, sulking, or whining
  • a personality disorder, such as histrionic personality disorder
  • loneliness
  • jealousy, which may stem from high levels of anxiety or insecurity

Children may seek positive or negative attention due to:

  • an attempt to get people to recognize their unmet needs
  • a sign of experiencing abuse or neglect
  • worries or concerns that they are unsure how to communicate
  • bereavement or trauma, causing them to seek attachment and security
  • feeling a lack of connection

In adults, attention-seeking behavior may be a sign of cluster B personality disorders. These include:

Histrionic personality disorder

Histrionic personality disorder is a condition in which people have a pattern of attention-seeking behavior and excessive displays of emotion.

People with histrionic personality disorder may come across as:

  • charming
  • flirtatious
  • volatile
  • seductive
  • impulsive
  • manipulative

People with histrionic personality disorder may be easily influenced by others, speak vaguely without detail, and feel uncomfortable if they are not the center of attention.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

A person with BPD may have long-term patterns of unstable emotions.

Signs of BPD include:

  • intense and unstable relationships
  • impulsive and reckless behavior
  • self-harm
  • recurrent thoughts of suicide
  • intense mood swings
  • anger problems

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

NPD is a condition in which people have a pattern of needing admiration from others.

Those with NPD may show the following signs:

  • displaying feelings of grandiosity and self-importance
  • having a lack of empathy
  • having a sense of entitlement and expecting special treatment
  • taking advantage of others to serve themselves
  • being overly focused on fantasies of success, power, and brilliance
  • acting arrogant or haughty

Other mental health conditions with attention-seeking characteristics

A person with disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorder may display attention-seeking characteristics.

Disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorders cause difficulty with self-control and may cause aggressive or impulsive behavior, such as:

  • fighting
  • lying
  • stealing
  • harming property
  • defiance and breaking rules

Examples of disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorders include:

Symptoms of these disorders may first appear in childhood but can continue into adulthood.

If a person is displaying persistent attention-seeking behavior, it may be best to get help from a healthcare professional.

People may need to work with a behavior specialist or mental health specialist to assess signs of attention-seeking behavior, identify the underlying cause, and find appropriate treatment.

If a parent or guardian is concerned that their child is displaying behavior that they could consider attention-seeking, they should contact a doctor or pediatrician.

Treating attention-seeking behavior may depend on the underlying cause.

For example, if a personality disorder is the cause, psychotherapy may be an effective treatment option. Psychotherapy may help a person better understand their condition and symptoms, understand the effect of their behaviors, and learn coping strategies.

If a trauma, abuse, or bereavement is leading to attention-seeking behavior, working with a mental health specialist may help.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, children who may be displaying behavior deemed as attention-seeking may have difficulties communicating their real needs.

Working to understand what a child may need and the underlying causes of their behavior can help people support a child and resolve their behavior. A mental health specialist can help with this.

Coping with attention-seeking behavior as a loved one

Having a loved one displaying attention-seeking behavior can be challenging.

People may find it helpful to talk with a mental health professional about their feelings and to help find positive coping strategies.

Attention-seeking behavior may occur due to a personality disorder, mental health condition, or an inability to communicate effectively.

If attention-seeking behavior persists or becomes destructive, people may need to seek help from a healthcare professional.

A mental health or behavioral specialist can help identify the root cause and suggest appropriate treatment.