New research links ADHD to multisensory integration

Dr Maria Panagiotidi

Dr Maria Panagiotidi (Lecturer in Psychology & Member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) blogs about her new paper investigating sensory integration and ADHD:

In our daily life, we often take in information from multiple senses at the same time. As we interact with the environment, signals from various senses are integrated to create unified and coherent representation of our surroundings. This process is known as “multisensory integration”. The ability to integrate information from multiple senses has been shown to be abnormal in certain disorders such as autism. Anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) might also have deficits in multisensory integration. ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder and in roughly half of the children diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms persist into adulthood. It is characterised by attentional difficulties, hyperactive/impulsive behaviour, or both. ADHD can be viewed as the extreme end of traits found in the general population.

In a recent paper published in “Acta Psychologica”, we empirically tested multisensory integration in individuals with high and low level of ADHD traits and found significant abnormalities in the way they integrate visual and auditory signals. Specifically, adults who reported more inattention and hyperactivity symptoms, processed sensory information differently than adults with fewer symptoms.

In total, 40 participants with high and low ADHD traits were recruited and took part in a lab based task; they were presented with a series of brief sounds and simple images and were asked to decide whether they appeared at the same time or not. The image and the sound were presented either simultaneously or with slight delays (image before the sound or vice versa). The responses of the participants were used to measure multisensory integration. The effect of ADHD symptoms on performance was investigated by comparing the responses of the high and the low ADHD groups. The low ADHD group reported a higher number of simultaneous presentations. This finding suggests that individuals with ADHD symptoms are less likely to integrate multisensory information.

Perceiving signals from two or more modalities as occurring separately can lead to distractibility, one of the core and most disruptive symptoms of ADHD. Showing that ADHD might be linked to abnormal integration of sensory information also informs our understanding of neural mechanisms involved in the disorder. In particular, it provides further evidence for the involvement of the midbrain superior colliculus (SC) – a sensory structure linked to orienting the eyes and head towards salient stimuli – in ADHD (located towards the top of the image).

Our study identified a new area of focus for future ADHD research, which could potentially improve our ability to diagnose and assess ADHD. In addition to this, our results may provide future directions for possible ADHD treatment and behavioural interventions.

You can read the publication via the below link:

Panagiotidi, M., Overton, P. G., Stafford, T. (2017). Multisensory integration and ADHD-like traits: Evidence for an abnormal temporal integration window in ADHD. Acta Psychologica, 181, 10-17.

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