Moving to Capture Children's Attention: Developing a Methodology for Measuring Visuomotor Attention

Liam J. B. Hill, Rachel O. Coats, Faisal Mushtaq, Justin H. G. Williams, Lorna S. Aucott, Mark Mon-Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Attention underpins many activities integral to a child's development. However, methodological limitations currently make large-scale assessment of children's attentional skill impractical, costly and lacking in ecological validity. Consequently we developed a measure of 'Visual Motor Attention' (VMA)-a construct defined as the ability to sustain and adapt visuomotor behaviour in response to task-relevant visual information. In a series of experiments, we evaluated the capability of our method to measure attentional processes and their contributions in guiding visuomotor behaviour. Experiment 1 established the method's core features (ability to track stimuli moving on a tablet-computer screen with a hand-held stylus) and demonstrated its sensitivity to principled manipulations in adults' attentional load. Experiment 2 standardised a format suitable for use with children and showed construct validity by capturing developmental changes in executive attention processes. Experiment 3 tested the hypothesis that children with and without coordination difficulties would show qualitatively different response patterns, finding an interaction between the cognitive and motor factors underpinning responses. Experiment 4 identified associations between VMA performance and existing standardised attention assessments and thereby confirmed convergent validity. These results establish a novel approach to measuring childhood attention that can produce meaningful functional assessments that capture how attention operates in an ecologically valid context (i.e. attention's specific contribution to visuomanual action).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0159543
Number of pages36
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2016


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