Virtual reality game to objectively detect ADHD
Researchers have used virtual reality games, eye tracking and machine learning to show that differences in eye movements can be used to detect ADHD, potentially providing a tool for more precise diagnosis of attention deficits. Their approach could also be used as the basis for an ADHD therapy, and with some modifications, to assess other conditions, such as autism.
ADHD is a common attention disorder that affects around six percent of the world’s children. Despite decades of searching for objective markers, ADHD diagnosis is still based on questionnaires, interviews and subjective observation. The results can be ambiguous, and standard behavioural tests don’t reveal how children manage everyday situations. Recently, a team consisting of researchers from Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and Åbo Akademi University developed a virtual reality game called EPELI that can be used to assess ADHD symptoms in children by simulating situations from everyday life.
Now, the team tracked the eye movements of children in a virtual reality game and used machine learning to look for differences in children with ADHD. The new study involved 37 children diagnosed with ADHD and 36 children in a control group. The children played EPELI and a second game, Shoot the Target, in which the player is instructed to locate objects in the environment and “shoot” them by looking at them.
‘We tracked children’s natural eye movements as they performed different tasks in a virtual reality game, and this proved to be an effective way of detecting ADHD symptoms. The ADHD children’s gaze paused longer on different objects in the environment, and their gaze jumped faster and more often from one spot to another. This might indicate a delay in visual system development and poorer information processing than other children,’ said Liya Merzon, a doctoral researcher at Aalto University.
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Project lead Juha Salmitaival, an Academy Research Fellow at Aalto, explains that part of the game’s strength is its motivational value. ‘This isn’t just a new technology to objectively assess ADHD symptoms. Children also find the game more interesting than standard neuropsychological tests,’ he says.
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