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.
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.