for people ages 8-12 (full criteria)
at Sacramento, California
study started
completion around
Principal Investigator
by Julie Schweitzer, PhD



Problems with distraction are widespread in the 21st century, but for people with developmental delays or behavioral challenges they can have more damaging effects. For example, susceptibility to distraction is associated with worse school and social performance, lower high school graduation rates, and increased incidence of serious accidents. The investigators' goal is to improve understanding of distractibility and develop a targeted treatment. The proposed intervention is based on models of habituation, which is a term that means reduced physiological and emotional response to a stimulus (e.g. moving object, or loud noise, etc.) as it is seen repeatedly. The investigators use virtual reality technology to show study participants distracting stimuli repeatedly in a virtual classroom setting, and their hypothesis states that participants will improve attention in the face of distraction by training with this technology intervention. The virtual classroom setting is especially relevant for children who have significant challenges with distractibility, such as children with ADHD. This intervention will likely be effective in helping individuals with other clinical disorders and perhaps the general population as well.

Official Title

Virtual Reality Attention Management Program for Improving Attention in Children


Distraction is a growing and large public health problem with estimated societal harm due to distracted driving alone at $123 billion. In the age of texting, social media and computer pop-ups, distractions are unavoidable. There are no known interventions specifically developed to reduce distractions from interfering with attention. This project will test a treatment that combines virtual reality (VR) technology with habituation learning and exposure therapy to reduce the ability of distractors to interfere with learning and attention in children who are highly susceptible to being distracted. The investigators will test the treatment in children with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as they represent an enriched sample experiencing impairing distractibility that interferes with their daily functioning. The investigators hypothesize that children who suffer from severe distractibility can learn to ignore the distractors and improve their attention in VR therapy that simulates environments requiring focused attention. The neural targets of the therapy are both proactive and reactive control mechanisms used to suppress distractor processing. The investigators will assess how well VR therapy is at modulating distractor suppression via saccade metrics and measure the frequency of oculomotor capture by distractors as well as the efficiency of distractor suppression before and after therapy. Changes in head movement toward distractors, parent and teacher ADHD rating scales and improved performance on attention-demanding tasks will further assess success of the therapy and its ability to generalize to novel environments. Children will practice computer exercises at home using a VR headset that simulates a classroom environment with a high rate of distractors. Children will be performing attention-demanding tasks as if they were in a classroom with the intensity and rate of presentation of the personalized distractions (e.g., peers talking, teacher walking by) adapted according to the child's performance. With today's low-cost VR-gaming technology, children will be able to participate in habituation treatment sessions at-home, several times a week, using a lightweight and comfortable VR gaming headset.

In this "fast fail" test of the VR therapy, the project will assess the preliminary success and feasibility of VR training to modify saccades to distractors in an adaptive training versus nonadaptive training scenario. Data from this trial will determine whether to go forward for a subsequent confirmatory study.


ADHD, Distractibility, Virtual Reality, Attention, Child, Pediatric, VR Treatment


You can join if…

Open to people ages 8-12

  • Significant (T score >= 60) ratings of Cognitive Problems/Inattention or DSM Inattention scale scores on the Conners' Parent or Teacher Rating Scale-3 or Parent ADHD Rating Scale-IV (ADHD-RS)
  • Endorsement of 4 or more symptoms of inattention on a clinical psychiatric interview (e.g. Parent DISC, DICA, Kiddie-SADS, Mini-KID)
  • Comfortable using a computer
  • Full Scale IQ > 80

You CAN'T join if...

  • Psychosis (by parent report at phone screen), significant depression, autism (15 or > on Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)), psychotic disorders, visual or hearing impairment or any other disorder that may interfere with task performance
  • It is in the investigator's opinion that it is not in the subject's best interest to continue
  • Subject is non-compliant with training schedule
  • Subjects on pharmacotherapy for ADHD at the time of enrollment will be excluded from Aims 3 and 4.
  • Subjects starting behavioral or psychological treatment for ADHD during the training phase of the study will be excluded


  • UC Davis MIND Institute accepting new patients
    Sacramento California 95817 United States

Lead Scientist at UC Davis

  • Julie Schweitzer, PhD
    Julie Schweitzer is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and MIND Institute. She directs the Attention, Impulsivity, Regulation (AIR)/ADHD Program at the UC Davis MIND Institute.


accepting new patients
Start Date
Completion Date
University of California, Davis
Learn more or sign up for the study here! Sign up for this study
Study Type
Expecting 50 study participants
Last Updated