This week I have been at Great Ormond Street Hospital London setting up some tasks on an Eyelink Duo eye tracker for a project led by Dr Luis Lacerda and Prof. Chris Clark with Vision Specialist Clinical Scientist Sian Hanley.
The project will examine children’s recovery of visual function following Hemisphere disconnection surgery (which can be used to treat severe epilepsy). Luis’ team will evaluate the effectiveness of our Eyelander game for training visual search ability in these children as well as UCL’s Read Right programme, developed by my old colleague and collaborator Prof. Alex Leff.
It’s been great to visit and a privilege to be involved in such an exciting project with such an outstanding team of researchers and clinicians. Feel free to get in touch with Luis if you would like to know more about the project.
This week is the AGM of the Lincoln and District Parkinsons group of which I am proud to be honorary president. I want to thank everyone from the local group and beyond who has participated in our eye tracking studies over the last few years. I am currently writing reports for research journals about the results but here are some of the interesting findings:
Memory Game Study: We asked people to play a memory game and used the eye tracker to measure eye movements while they searched for tokens hidden in boxes on a screen. We found that people with Parkinsons looked ahead and looked back less with their eyes when playing the game. We think Parkinsons affects planning ahead and keeping track of where you’ve already been when you’re searching for something.
Guessing Game Study: We also asked people to play a card guessing game while they wore an eye tracking helmet. They had to describe the thing that was on the card (e.g. “elephant”; “apple” etc.). When someone with Parkinsons was describing, we found players got through less cards in the allotted time, but people with Parkinsons were just as good at guessing when someone else was describing.
People without Parkinsons made eye contact to different degrees when playing the guessing game. We think the results show that other people making eye contact might help someone with Parkinsons get their words out better, as well as helping the other person to listen.
Please get in touch via e-mail or this blog page to let me know if you have any questions and let me know what you think about the findings?
This month we published the first ever fMRI brain imaging study of health care rationing decision making
Health care funders around the world have to make difficult moral decisions to allocate limited money to treat various medical conditions in different groups of patients. For example whether or not to support funding for expensive new drug treatments for a group of cancer patients with low chance of survival relative to a drug that will benefit a group with a higher chance of survival. A commonly used framework on which these decisions can be based are Quality Adjusted Life Years or “QALYs”. This system is based on so-called utilitarian decision making principles, which prioritize choices that deliver the maximum benefit to the greatest number of people. The problem with QALYs is that decisions based on this approach are often viewed negatively by members of the general public. People instead believe that everybody has a “right” to receive medical care and anything that violates this principle is unfair and immoral.
Consistent with previous work, when asked to judge the “fairness” of various scenarios depicting a split between different social groups our participants judged unequal division of funding as “unfair”, even when principles of QALY might indicate otherwise. Interestingly brain regions linked to emotion as well as cognitive processes were active during decision making. Unequal splits of resources for medical care produced activity in the anterior insula, a region often associated with social / moral disgust (see earlier posts on social norms and eating disorders). Further, under conditions where participants were prepared to judge unequal splits as fair, more activity was seen in the inferior frontal cortex, a region activated when humans inhibit a strong response impulse.
The results represent a preliminary first step for cognitive neuroscience into the field of health economics and the paper is careful to avoid over interpreting the findings and applying them to real situations outside the scanner. But the findings are consistent with a bigger idea that humans have two decision making systems, one cognitive and one more emotional / instinctive. Given enough information people may be more inclined to support healthcare decisions based on QALYs, but this requires cognitive effort to over-ride a more emotion based bias towards absolute equality and universal rights.
The paper is out in the June edition of the Journal of Neuroscience Psychology and Economics. The research was carried out in collaboration with Prof. Paul Anand ( Open University and Health Economics Research Centre at the University of Oxford), Lisa Smith (Flinders University Austrailia) and the Exeter Magnetic Resonance Research Centre. A pre-print of the paper is available via the Lincoln Repository website.
In a couple of weeks time I’m aiming to complete the David Lloyd Lincoln Sprint Triathlon in benefit of Parkinsons UK. You can sponsor me here
Much of my published research over the years has looked at how eye movements are affected in Parkinsons during cognitively demanding tasks such as problem solving, rule learning and task switching (see earlier post). In the long term its possible my research could help to develop tests to improve earlier detection of the condition. But what research papers can’t get across is what amazingly nice people Parkinsons patients are and how positive they are about helping with research.
Because of this I wanted to make at least a token effort to raise awareness and provide a direct benefit by doing my Triathlon in aid of Parkinsons UK.
We currently have a fully funded studentship opportunity available to examine how we direct attention to social cues in the real world. Supervised by Dr Frouke Hermens and myself the project will involve using a mobile eye tracking system. The work builds on earlier work by Frouke, myself and my former PhD student Nicola Gregory (now at Bournemouth) looking at how socio-biological cues such as eye gaze direction and pointing finger cues direct attention in an automatic way.
See here for more details of the project and earlier posts on my work with Nicola on socio-biological cueing here