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Children with ADHD inattentive to other’s eyes

In a recent study, children with ADHD were slower to reorient when looking at images of faces than children without ADHD.

Children with ADHD often have inattention to other’s eyes, leading to social impairments, according to a recent study.

ADHD can cause negative effects on school and job performance and peer relations, along with increasing alcohol and substance abuse. Children with ADHD are often excluded from group activities because of differences in behavior.

Attention to faces is a common factor in socialization, and disruption of attention can isolate children with ADHD further. Prior studies have indicated that children with ADHD have different behaviors when gazing at faces, though these studies have not focused on attention to eyes.

Processing the emotion within other’s eyes is often the most effective way of engaging with them, but children with ADHD often face difficulty processing other’s eye gazes. The development of the brain may be altered from this impairment.

Researchers conducted a study involving 82 children aged 8 to 13 years old, 41% of which had been diagnosed with ADHD. In a follow-up 2 years later, 67 children participated, with 40% being diagnosed with ADHD. The children who dropped out between studies had a lower socio-economic status than those who remained, but no other variable changed between the groups.

Regular medication had been given to 80% of the children with ADHD. Those taking stimulant medication were asked to pause on the day of the procedure, but 29% were medicated during the eye preference task (EPT). Comorbid disorders included 3 cases of anxiety disorder, 1 sleep disorder, and 1 language disability.

Participants took a 2 hour visit to the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University or to Kista BUMM. There, they were given an EPT assessment alongside other tasks. Parents completed a questionnaire on their children’s symptoms.

The EPT lasted 5 minutes, during which images of human faces cropped to only show the inner region were present to children. Images included angry, happy, and neutral expressions, and children were instructed to watch what happened on screen. A fixation cross pointed children to the eye region half the time and the mouth region for the other half.

Overall, children in the EPT were slower to orient from the eyes in neutral expressions than happy or angry ones. When primed to look at the eyes, participants had similar response times toward happy or angry expression, but when primed to look at the mouth were slower to orient to happy than angry. There was no difference between angry and neutral expressions.

Slower responses were associated with more symptoms of ADHD. Researchers concluded that ADHD may affect the temporal microstructure of attention to other’s eyes, leading to social impairments.

Reference

Frick MA, Brocki KC, Henriksson LH,Kleberg JL. Disrupted attention to other’s eyes is linked to symptoms of ADHD in childhood. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-022-01316-9