Virtual reality games coupled with eye-tracking and machine learning systems can reveal differences in eye movements and lead to early detection of conditions like autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, scientists say.
ADHD affects about 6 percent of children worldwide, and despite decades of research, its diagnosis still relies on questionnaires, interviews and subjective observations, leading to test results being ambiguous, say researchers, including those from Aalto University in Finland.
Children with ADHD face attention difficulties, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, and the condition can persist well into adulthood.
In a new study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers have developed a virtual reality game called EPELI that may be used to assess ADHD symptoms by simulating everyday situations.
The experiment included 37 children diagnosed with ADHD and 36 children who were a control group.
The children played EPELI and another game – “Shoot the Target” – in which players are instructed to locate objects in the environment and “shoot” them by looking at them.
Scientists say EPELI provides children with a list of tasks that simulate everyday life, like brushing their teeth and eating bananas.
These quests require players to hold their own despite environmental distractions such as B. a switched on television, remind of the tasks.
The game evaluates how the kids play, including how often they click the controls and how efficiently they complete the tasks.
“Efficiency correlates with daily functioning, while children with ADHD often face challenges,” explains Topi Siro, one of the authors of the study.
Using the game and the machine learning and eye-tracking setup, the researchers tracked children’s natural eye movements as they performed various tasks in a virtual reality game.
“The ADHD children’s gaze lingered longer on different objects in the environment, and their gaze jumped from one place to another faster and more frequently,” said Liya Merzon, study co-author from Aalto University.
“This could indicate a delay in the development of the visual system and poorer information processing than in other children,” she explained,” she added.
In further studies, the scientists hope to test the broader therapeutic applications of virtual reality gaming.
“We have shown that a naturalistic VR task combined with eye-tracking enables accurate prediction of attention deficits and paves the way for precision diagnostics,” write scientists in the study.
They believe that such games could also be used as ADHD rehabilitation tools in the future, since they can precisely control what is happening in the stimulus world and at the same time collect information about behavior.
“We want to develop a game-based digital therapy that can help children with ADHD get excited about things they wouldn’t otherwise do,” said project leader Juha Salmitaival.
Researchers say VR games can also be further developed to measure problems with activity planning and flexibility in people with autism.
With some modifications, games could also be designed to assess language problems, brain trauma, ADHD in adults, and even the deterioration of memory with age.