St. Anselm Virtual reality lab; Working through the Summer
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Date posted: 02/08/2004
Posted by: Site Administration
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Health

St. Anselm College, New Hampshire, USA, the buildings are quiet, the students have all gone - save for in one building, one high-tech virtual reality lab where amazing research is being done - on ADD.

Attention Defecit Disorder is a condition whereby people with ADD lose out on classroom learning environments because their attention drifts so easilly.

A handful of junior and senior psychology students, working under the guide of psychology professor Paul Finn and associate professor Kathleen Flannery, are using an immersive virtual reality system to see how boys diagnosed with ADD react to classroom distraction.

Using a part-surround dome simulator to give a half-hemisphere of immersion, a head-tracking blinkered helmet (blinkered to remove the view of the lab behind the hem8isphere), datagloves with fingertip haptics, and a lot of processing power, the student/professor team created a virtual classroom with virtual distractions: a paper airplane flying by, children passing notes, and cars and trucks passing by the classroom window.

The first volunteer, a pre-teen boy, was in the lab a fortnight ago with his mother, and sat through the classroom test.

The boy sat inside the dome with the full rig on, and was given the task of watching the virtual teacher, who had letters flying in mid air in front of her - whenever the letter A was followed by the letter K a button was to be pressed. Simple enough, but add in the distractions.

With the VR system, researchers were able to monitor exactly where the boy's eyes were looking at all times, along with what their fingers were doing. Even if they were not pressing the button - which was also recorded - the fingertip sensor arrays told the computers where the fingers were at all times.

This comprehensive dataset gives researchers for the first time, an exact picture of how ADD sufferers attention differs from other children's attention - and what they're doing when they're not paying attention. Only possible via VR, the research was spectacular enough to encourage students to forego the pleasure of a summer break.

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