Attention control in preterm and term 5-month-old infants: Cross-task stability increases with gestational age

Oliver Perra, Alice Winstanley, Rebecca Sperotto, Merideth Gattis*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Cross-task stability refers to performance consistency across different settings and measures of the same construct. Cross-task stability can help us understand developmental processes, including how risks such as preterm birth affect outcomes. We investigated cross-task stability of attention control in 32 preterm and 39 term infants. All infants had the same chronological age at time of testing (5 months) but varied in gestational age (GA) at birth (30–42 weeks). Infants completed an experimental attention following task with a researcher and a naturalistic play observation with their mothers. Both preterm and term infants demonstrated attention following in the experimental task. GA and flexibility of attention were related: the likelihood of no turn trials decreased with increasing GA. To evaluate cross-task stability, we compared attention performance in the experimental and naturalistic settings. Flexible attention shifts on the experimental task were positively related to attention to objects in the naturalistic observation. Furthermore, the association between flexible attention shifts on the experimental task and attention to objects in the naturalistic observation was moderated by GA. Our study provides initial evidence that the consolidation of attention control increases with GA. These findings highlight the value of comparing experimental and observational measures of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date20 Jan 2024
Publication statusEarly online date - 20 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a Waterloo Foundation research project grant (267‐1077) awarded to Merideth Gattis and a Wellcome Trust PhD studentship (084911/Z/08/Z) awarded to Alice Winstanley. We thank Charlotte Draper for assistance with coding and Marc Bornstein and Diane Putnick for their advice and for comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This work is dedicated to Shoba Cherian, in memory of her competence and compassion as both a clinician and a researcher. While working on this manuscript Oliver Perra was in receipt of a Public Health Agency (PHA) Health and Social Care (HSC) Research and Development division Enabling Grant (STL/5274/16). The funders had no role in data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Infancy published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Congress of Infant Studies.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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