Attention and social communication skills of very preterm infants after training attention control: Bayesian analyses of a feasibility study

Oliver Perra, Fiona Alderdice, David Sweet, Alison McNulty, Matthew Johnston, Delfina Bilello, Kostas Papageorgiou, Sam Wass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Very preterm (VP) infants (born 28 to <32 weeks of gestation) are at risk of cognitive delays and lower educational attainments. These risks are linked to anomalies in attention and information processing that emerge in the first years of life. Early interventions targeting attention functioning may equip VP infants with key building blocks for later attainments.
Methods: We tested the feasibility of a randomised trial where VP infants took part in a computerised cognitive procedure to train attention control. Ten healthy VP infants aged approximately 12 months (corrected age) and randomly allocated with 1:1 ratio to the training (interactive computerised presentations) or an active control procedure completed the study. Before and after the training programme, participating infants completed a battery of screen-based attention tests, naturalistic attention and communication tasks, and temperament assessments. In a previous study we analysed the data concerning feasibility (e.g. recruitment and retention). In the paper presented here we considered the infants’ performance and used Bayesian regression in order to provide credible treatment estimates considering the data collected.
Results: Estimates indicate moderate treatment effects in visual memory: compared to controls, trained infants displayed improvements equivalent to 0.59 SD units. Trained infants also improved in their abilities to attend to less salient stimuli presentations by 0.82 SD units, compared to controls. However, results did not indicate relevant gains in attention habituation or disengagement. We also reported moderate improvements in focused attention during naturalistic tasks, and in directing other people’s attention to shared objects.
Discussion: The results warrant further investigation concerning the effectiveness of training attention control in VP infants, extending this line of research beyond our small and homogeneous sample of healthy VP infants. This study also emphasises the utility of Bayesian approaches in estimating potentially relevant effects in small samples or exploratory studies. The scope for further research on early attention control training is discussed in light of studies indicating VP children’s susceptibility to positive environmental inputs.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0273767
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume17
Issue number9
Early online date22 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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