School of Psychological Science

Postgraduate Profiles

Contact

Louise Delane

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 8150


Start date

Feb 2012

Submission date

Feb 2016

Louise Delane

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Thesis

Dual Task Performance in Early School-Aged Children Born Very Preterm

Summary

A pervasive difficulty in many children born preterm is executive dysfunction, attentional problems and higher rates of ADHD. Executive functioning broadly refers to the organisation, orientation and execution of goal-directed behaviour. Pivotal to this is intact attentional capacities to focus on relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant and distracting stimuli, to maintain this attentional state, to hold and manipulate relevant information while performing other activities, and to transfer attention from one task to another. The pervasive executive/attentional difficulties in preterm children may present as the inability to follow instructions, focus on tasks for long periods of time, turn-take, and think before acting (Howard, Anderson & Taylor, 2008). Executive/attentional difficulties alone have a global impact on academic, behavioural, social and emotional functioning. Further, intact executive/attentional processes are essential for learning new skills and knowledge (Anderson 2011).

While a large number of studies report that those born very preterm perform poorly on a range of outcome variables on cognitive tests, there is less research into the nature of these impairments, possible underlying mechanisms, and subsequent interventions or care strategies to reduce later problems. The broad aim of this thesis is to investigate possible underlying mechanisms of impaired cognitive performance in children born preterm. The more specific aim of the proposed series of studies is to use a 'dual task paradigm', which has not yet been fully investigated in the preterm literature, to tease out a potential ‘broken’ mechanism in the preterm brain which is conceptually responsible for carrying out two tasks simultaneously. This can also be thought of as divided attention, and is an essential skill for carrying out goal-directed behaviour in daily life.

The dual task paradigm is a popular tool in the broader neurocognitive literature. Interest continues to grow in the idea of a mechanism responsible for carrying out two tasks simultaneously as populations such as those with Alzheimer’s Disease show a larger cost to single task performance when carrying out two tasks at once compared to healthily aging adults. There is potential that this ‘dual task mechanism’ may hold a key to explaining part of the wide array of organisational difficulties that preterm children exhibit.

Why my research is important

Preterm children are consistently shown to perform below full-term controls on a number of cognitive measures such as intelligence and problem solving. They also show poorer academic achievement and increased prevalence of learning difficulties. Difficulty paying attention and carrying out multiple goals can have a global impact on daily life. As obstetric and neonatal care improves, infants of younger gestational ages are able to survive, however unfortunately we are not getting any closer to reducing the adverse neurocognitive developmental outcomes of preterm birth.


 

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