Which tools are useful to perform human behaviour observations when studying developmental disorders?
Developmental disorders have a huge impact on someone’s life: children with ADHD or autism may have trouble concentrating in school, paying attention to others, and recognising social cues. These children are also commonly at risk for a range of other symptoms, including mood disorders, learning disabilities, and impairments to emotion regulation.
To find answers to their research questions, researchers often compare the behaviour of neurotypical children to that of children with developmental disorders. Numerous researchers record audio and video to capture behaviours and reactions while they perform a task, are exposed to a novel object, or are playing with a sibling, parent, or peer. The software tools Viso, The Observer XT, and FaceReader can elevate these studies.
Three examples of research studies on developmental disorders using Noldus tools
In the following examples, valuable tools for studying factors that might influence developmental disorders are highlighted.
Working memory and emotion regulation in children with ADHD
Research suggests that children with ADHD have more trouble regulating emotions than their neurotypical peers. This includes difficulties in recognising and understanding emotions, heightened emotional reactivity, decreased emotion regulation, and impaired empathy.
Researchers from Oklahoma State University, led by Stephanie J Tarle, used an observational design to examine not only the above assumption, but also whether these children would respond more strongly to increased demands on working memory1,2. Children’s behaviours were observed and coded using The Observer XT behaviour coding software. The researchers were interested specifically in behaviours which showed decreased regulation of emotions.
The results of the study showed that the relation between working memory and emotion regulation works differently for children with ADHD. These findings have important implications for the treatment of this disorder: for example, by understanding how emotion regulation is influenced in children with ADHD, caretakers can structure their environments more optimally.
Atypical social-communicative behaviour a marker of ASD?
Reduced eye contact is a known symptom of autism. A team led by Dr Devon Gangi at the University of California, Davis examined infant gaze behaviour at six, nine, and 12 months of age in infants who were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as low- and high-risk infants without ASD outcomes3,4. They investigated whether gaze behaviour was associated across two interactive contexts:
- Structured testing with an unfamiliar examiner (Mullen test)
- Semi-structured play interaction with a parent
The researchers coded gaze behaviours, as in gaze to the face, using The Observer XT. They found that gaze behaviour of nine-month-old infants in the first context predicted their gaze behaviour in the second context. However, 12-month-old infants without ASD outcomes exhibited higher mean rates of gaze to faces during parent–child play than during the Mullen test, while the gaze behaviour of the ASD group did not differ by context. This suggests that infants developing ASD may be less sensitive to context or interactive partners.
Early exploratory behaviour in infants with Down’s syndrome
Colorado State University Professor Deborah J Fidler led a team of researchers examining cognition, receptive communication, expressive communication, fine motor development, and gross motor development in 45 infants with Down’s syndrome5,6. Specifically, they focused on the relationship between cognitive functioning and early attention and memory skills, including the ability to sustain and shift visual attention and the ability to temporarily store and retrieve visual information.
Infant attention and memory behaviours were observed in three different one-minute object exploration trials. Video recordings of the trials were coded and analysed using The Observer XT. The research team used their observational data to identify different infant developmental profiles.
When compared to the developmental assessment, results showed that the active exploration profile was associated with higher cognitive, expressive communication, and receptive communication scores. This profile was also associated with a higher cognitive age on several indices. These findings indicate that infants with Down’s syndrome display systematically different levels of visual, manual, and oral exploration. Differences in passive and active profiles were most pronounced in the amount of time spent in manual exploration of objects.
As early exploration forms the basis for other areas of development, it is important to stimulate this behaviour in infants with Down’s syndrome.
Tools which benefit research on developmental disorders
Noldus is a leading developer of software and integrated solutions for human behaviour research. What started out as a one-man company has grown into a worldwide network of offices and distributors, with over 50,000 users around the globe. Noldus offers a variety of tools which can benefit behavioural research.
- The Observer XT to code and analyse behaviours: this tool helps to discover behaviour patterns, outliers, deviations, or anomalies to answer users’ research questions;
- Viso to capture behaviour in multiple rooms: viso is the easy-to-use solution for creating video and audio recordings in multiple rooms, allowing users to gain insights into the behaviours of children, for example during interactions with their parents;
- (Baby) FaceReader to analyse emotions: facial expressions can provide extra insights which help us to understand emotional reactions. In addition, FaceReader can be used to capture (unconscious) expressions of pain; and
- Lab and Hardware Solutions: our lab solutions allow you to observe and record behaviour unobtrusively either in a stationary lab setting or even onsite with a portable lab.
Proven suitability in clinical research
Video has proven to be a good tool for gathering evidence about the factors involved in developmental disorders. In this way, early recognition can be achieved, diagnoses can be made quicker, developmental processes can be stimulated, and interventions can be improved. By measuring facial expressions, eye gaze, and physiological data, substantial depth is added to this research.
2 Tarle SJ, Alderson RM, Arrington EF, Roberts DK. Emotion regulation and children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: the effect of varying phonological working memory demands. J Atten Disord. 2021;25(6):851-864. doi:10.1177/1087054719864636.
4 Gangi DN, Schwichtenberg AJ, Iosif AM, Young GS, Baguio F, Ozonoff S. Gaze to faces across interactive contexts in infants at heightened risk for autism. Autism. 2018;22(6):763-768. doi:10.1177/1362361317704421.
6 Fidler DJ, Schworer E, Prince MA, Will EA, Needham AW, Daunhauer LA. Exploratory behavior and developmental skill acquisition in infants with Down syndrome. Infant Behav Dev. 2019;54:140-150. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.02.002.