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Janette Atkinson; Typical and atypical brain development for components of visual attention. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):33. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.21.9.33.
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Developing attention mechanisms play a key role in how visual information is used, and determine how the visual environment shapes visual development. However, visual attention is not a unitary process but involves multiple components of selective attention, sustained attention, and executive function(s). The Early Childhood Attention Battery (ECAB) separately measures these components in preschool children (or equivalent mental age), defining individual ‘attention profiles’ and group differences across these components. For example, we find that sustained visual attention is impaired in children with perinatal brain injury but is relatively preserved in children with Williams (WS). Children with Down Syndrome or WS have difficulties inhibiting prepotent responses in executive function tasks, although in WS these difficulties are much greater in the visuospatial than the verbal domain. In new data using the ECAB in a dietary supplementation trial to reduce the impact of perinatal brain injury, we find that executive function is specifically improved in the treated group.
Our work has highlighted attention deficits as part of the ‘dorsal stream vulnerability’ characterising many developmental disorders. We discuss these patterns of deficit across syndromes in relation to the dorsal and ventral attention networks and salience network defined in current connectivity studies in children and adults, including our findings on the tracts associated with children’s performance on visual decisions. Individual variations in how these networks interact may determine how top-down goals and bottom-up sensory stimulation are integrated in the control of visual behaviour in development.
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