UEL Baby Dev Lab

Changes in behavior and salivary cortisol after targeted cognitive training in typical 12-month-old infants

Wass, S. V., Cook, C., & Clackson, K. 2017. Developmental Psychology

Previous research has suggested that early development may be an optimal period to implement cognitive training interventions, particularly those relating to attention control, a basic ability that is essential for the development of other cognitive skills. In the present study, we administered gaze-contingent training (95 minutes across 2 weeks) targeted at voluntary attention control to a cohort of typical 12-month-old children (N = 24) and sham training to a control group (N = 24). We assessed training effects on (a) tasks involving non-trained aspects of attention control: visual sustained attention, habituation speed, visual recognition memory, sequence learning and reversal learning; (b) general attentiveness (on-task behaviours during testing) and (c) salivary cortisol levels. Assessments were administered immediately following the cessation of training and at a 6-week follow-up. On the immediate post-test infants showed significantly more sustained visual attention, faster habituation and improved sequence learning. Significant effects were also found for increased general attentiveness and decreased salivary cortisol. Some of these effects were still evident at the 6-week follow-up (significantly improved sequence learning and marginally improved […] sustained attention). These findings extend the emerging literature showing that attention training is possible in infancy.

Attention training for infants at familial risk of ADHD (INTERSTAARS): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

Goodwin, A., Salomone, S., Bolton, P., Charman, T., Jones, E. J., Pickles, A., ... & Johnson, M. H. 2016. Trials

Background: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder that can
negatively impact on an individual’s quality of life. It is pathophysiologically complex and heterogeneous with
different neuropsychological processes being impaired in different individuals. Executive function deficits, including
those affecting attention, working memory and inhibitory control, are common. Cognitive training has been promoted
as a treatment option, based on the notion that by strengthening the neurocognitive networks underlying these
executive processes, ADHD symptoms will also be reduced. However, if implemented in childhood or later, when the
full disorder has become well-established, cognitive training has only limited value. INTERSTAARS is a trial designed to
test a novel approach to intervention, in which cognitive training is implemented early in development, before the
emergence of the disorder. The aim of INTERSTAARS is to train early executive skills, thereby increasing resilience and
reducing later ADHD symptoms and associated impairment.
Methods/design: Fifty 10–14-month-old infants at familial risk of ADHD will participate in INTERSTAARS. Infants
will be randomised to an intervention or a control group. The intervention aims to train early attention skills
by using novel eye-tracking technology and gaze-contingent training paradigms. Infants view animated games
on a screen and different events take place contingent on where on the screen the infant is looking. Infants
allocated to the intervention will receive nine weekly home-based attention training sessions. Control group
infants will also receive nine weekly home visits, but instead of viewing the training games during these visits
they will view non-gaze-contingent age-appropriate videos. At baseline and post treatment, infant attention
control will be assessed using a range of eye-tracking, observational, parent-report and neurophysiological
measures. The primary outcome will be a composite of eye-tracking tasks used to assess infant attention skills.
Follow-up data will be collected on emerging ADHD symptoms when the infants are 2 and 3 years old.
Discussion: This is the first randomised controlled trial to assess the potential efficacy of cognitive training as
a prevention measure for infants at familial risk of ADHD. If successful, INTERSTAARS could offer a promising
new approach for developing early interventions for ADHD.

First evidence of the feasibility of gaze-contingent attention training for school children with autism.

Powell, G., Wass, S. V., Erichsen, J. T., & Leekam, S. R. 2016. Autism

A number of authors have suggested that attention control may be a suitable target for cognitive training in children with autism spectrum disorder. This study provided the first evidence of the feasibility of such training using a battery of tasks intended to target visual attentional control in children with autism spectrum disorder within school-based settings. Twenty-seven children were recruited and randomly assigned to either training or an active control group. Of these, 19 completed the initial assessment, and 17 (9 trained and 8 control) completed all subsequent training sessions. Training of 120 min was administered per participant, spread over six sessions (on average). Compliance with the training tasks was generally high, and evidence of within-task training improvements was found. A number of untrained tasks to assess transfer of training effects were administered pre- and post-training. Changes in the trained group were assessed relative to an active control group. Following training, significant and selective changes in visual sustained attention were observed. Trend training effects were also noted on disengaging visual attention, but no convincing evidence of transfer was found to non-trained assessments of saccadic reaction time and anticipatory looking. Directions for future development and refinement of these new training techniques are discussed.