Student Research Group Designing ADHD Assessment

Mary Meinke '12, Clair Cassiello '11 and Lauren Liebman '12.
Mary Meinke '12, Clair Cassiello '11 and Lauren Liebman '12.
In recent years, the prevalence and diagnosis of childhood Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become an important medical and social issue, with nine percent of American children diagnosed with the disorder. But less than half of these children continue to suffer from ADHD into adulthood; only about four percent of American adults have it, and the symptoms of adult ADHD are different from its childhood manifestation. Thus, ADHD in adults has been relatively neglected in the medical community, to the detriment of the 12 million adults with ADHD. Working under Professor of Psychology Penny Yee, Clair Cassiello ’11, Lauren Liebman ’12 and Mary Meinke ’12 are designing a more reliable and accurate study to better assess the characteristics and behaviors associated with ADHD in adults.

This past year, psychology major Anthony Sali ’10 used two different tasks to correlate ADHD symptomatology (having more or fewer of the traits associated with ADHD) with eye movement. He used the Trails task, where participants have to follow a sequence of numbers and letters that are scattered on a screen, and the Posner task, where participants must react with a particular action when given the correct cue, requiring them to restrain their incorrect impulses. The participants complete these tasks while wearing an eye-tracking device, which collects data about the movement and location of participant’s gaze.

The Trails task is particularly interesting because the results should show that that the eyes of a participant with high ADHD symptomatology will move differently depending on whether the target is on the right or left half of the screen, due to the right hemisphere deficit associated with ADHD. The summer research team continues to process the data that Sali collected. “So far, the data is looking significant, but we’re not sure,” Meinke said.

But the team is also in the process of developing a new task that will combine the eye movement tracked in the Trails task and the impulse inhibition involved in the Posner task. Right now they’re reading up on an antisaccade task that requires participants to look to the other side of the screen when a dot appears; this task would be definitive in splitting up visual fields, the team said. The task would also test the inhibition aspect of high ADHD symptomatology, as people with more ADHD characteristics have more trouble inhibiting behaviors

Another task that would test the participant’s ability to inhibit behaviors is the Stop-signal task, in which participants respond when a variety of numbers and letters appear on the screen but are told not to respond when a particular one appears. The team will begin pilot testing soon and will determine which test can be better incorporated with the eye tracker in preparation for their independent study with Professor Yee in the fall.

The team is also interested in the effects of different types of ADHD could have on a new kind of test. If a participant has characteristics of inattentive ADHD, will his or her results differ from another participant with more characteristics of hyperactive ADHD, for example? These are questions the team seeks to answer before beginning their pilot testing.

The Hamilton students that the team will test rank either in the top 10 percent or bottom 10 percent for ADHD symptomatology according to the College ADHD Response Evaluation (CARE), which every first-year takes during orientation. This test is far from foolproof and it is only a self-report; the participants may not have a clinical diagnosis, but comparing the low and high ends of the spectrum can still have clinical significance. By developing these new kinds of tests, the team hopes to discover more traits and behaviors of adult ADHD and expand the body of literature on the subject.

Cassiello is a psychology major with a minor in mathematics. She is on the Hamilton sailing team and enjoys running and golfing. She recently went skydiving; “Clair is the daredevil of the group,” her labmates suggest. She will be applying to graduate school for clinical neuropsychology in the fall.

Liebman is a neuroscience major with a minor in women’s studies. She is on the Hamilton ski team and likes to play tennis. She is a teaching assistant for the stats psychology class and hopes to become a dentist after she graduates. “I’m afraid of 18-wheelers and snakes,” Liebman admits.

Meinke is also a neuroscience major with a minor in public policy. She sings in the coed a cappella group the Hamiltones, she is a tour guide, a teaching assistant for introductory biology, and an emergency medical technician in the Clinton community. She likes soccer and will be following the World Cup closely this summer.

Clair Cassiello is a graduate of  Newburgh Free Academy (N.Y); Lauren Liebman graduated from North Reading High School (Mass.); and Mary Meinke '12  is a graduate of Staples High School (Conn.)
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