Training attention control of very preterm infants: protocol for a feasibility study of the Attention Control Training (ACT)

Oliver Perra*, Sam Wass, Alison McNulty, David Sweet, Kostas Papageorgiou, Matthew Johnston, Aaron Patterson, Delfina Bilello, Fiona Alderdice

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
76 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Children born preterm may display cognitive, learning, and behaviour difficulties as they grow up. In particular, very premature birth (gestation age between 28 and less than 32 weeks) may put infants at increased risk of intellectual deficits and attention deficit disorder. Evidence suggests that the basis of these problems may lie in difficulties in the development of executive functions. One of the earliest executive functions to emerge around 1 year of age is the ability to control attention. An eye-tracking-based cognitive training programme to support this emerging ability, the Attention Control Training (ACT), has been developed and tested with typically developing infants. The aim of this study is to investigate the feasibility of using the ACT with healthy very preterm (VP) infants when they are 12 months of age (corrected age). The ACT has the potential to address the need for supporting emerging cognitive abilities of VP infants with an early intervention, which may capitalise on infants' neural plasticity. Methods/design: The feasibility study is designed to investigate whether it is possible to recruit and retain VP infants and their families in a randomised trial that compares attention and social attention of trained infants against those that are exposed to a control procedure. Feasibility issues include the referral/recruitment pathway, attendance, and engagement with testing and training sessions, completion of tasks, retention in the study, acceptability of outcome measures, quality of data collected (particularly, eye-tracking data). The results of the study will inform the development of a larger randomised trial. Discussion: Several lines of evidence emphasise the need to support emerging cognitive and learning abilities of preterm infants using early interventions. However, early interventions with preterm infants, and particularly very preterm ones, face difficulties in recruiting and retaining participants. These problems are also augmented by the health vulnerability of this population. This feasibility study will provide the basis for informing the implementation of an early cognitive intervention for very preterm infants. Trial registration: Registered Registration ID: NCT03896490. Retrospectively registered at Clinical Trials Protocol Registration and Results System (

Original languageEnglish
Article number17
Number of pages11
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s). 2020.


  • Attention
  • Computerized Cognitive Training
  • Eye-tracking methodology
  • Feasibility study
  • Infant, Premature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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