Background and Aim Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) is associated with visual perceptual and visuomotor problems (Geldof et al., 2012). This study investigated the nature of the visual search problems in VLBW children and sought to test the hypothesis that visual search problems originate from deficits in attentional networks.
Methods Visual search and attentional network function was assessed in 105 VLBW children and 64 age matched term controls. Visual search performance was investigated with a newly developed paradigm that manipulated target density and ordering of targets. Attentional network function was measured using the Posner Attentional Network Test (ANT; Posner, 2007).
Results Visual search was less efficient in VLBW children compared to controls (F1,167 = 4.0; p = 0.05 partial η2 = 0.02). In addition, VLBW children demonstrated poor executive attention as indicated by lower accuracy levels on the executive attention measure of the ANT(p< 0.001; partial η2 = 0.08), but not on the alerting (p = 0.45; partial η2 = 0.003) and orienting (p = 0.32; partial η2 = 0.01) attention measures. None of the attention measures significantly predicted visual search efficiency (alerting: β=.24; p = 0.22; orienting: β =–0.11; p = 0.65; executive attention: β = 0.17; p= 0.14).
Discussion VLBW children were characterized by less efficient visual search ability and reduced executive attention. Deficits in executive attention did not explain the deficits in visual search, suggesting that both deficits occur independently of each other.