Task switching is a cognitive process important for regulating behaviour. People with PWS generally show impaired switching and this difficulty is linked to people resisting change and showing temper outbursts triggered by changes.
We are currently funded by FPWR to develop a prototype computer game, TASTER (Training Attention Switching for Temper Episode Reduction) for improving task switching in children with PWS. We have developed the prototype to satisfy the needs and preferences of a small group of children with PWS using methods that capitalised on expertise from Brain Behavioural Science, and from Software Engineering. With these methods, we have built the game so that it establishes conditions that research shows are critical for supporting the transfer of gains in switching that occur in the game, to gains in real life functioning. We have shown that even very brief engagement with the game can improve in-game switching. Further, we are about to start a controlled evaluation of how far these in-game improvements transfer to gains in other measures of switching.
In Year 2 we propose to extend the TASTER prototype so that it can train switching in any individual with PWS who can engage with the tablet based game. We will do this using a technology – applied in successful commercial games – that allows on the fly generation of new game play so that the game remains motivating and exciting for all players. We will also apply methods we have refined during the first year to iteratively develop how the game adapts itself to trainees’ ongoing performances. Importantly, this adaptation will involve game demands on switching and on non-switching cognitive processes, meaning that individuals’ relative cognitive strengths can support improvements in switching. Together, these new plastic features of the TASTER game will be tailored to establish conditions that best promote the transfer of in-game switching gains to daily life, and compliance with training across diverse participants. Research activities are designed to facilitate multiple potential avenues to further support for game development.
24-60 trainees with PWS of varied ages and from different countries, showing a strong resistance to change, along with their caregivers, will be recruited. Caregivers will be asked to keep a time efficient temper outburst diary over the course of the project. Participants will engage with preference gathering and play testing sessions at home, facilitated via Skype by a researcher. These sessions will allow the game to be tailored to preferences and needs across the full range of trainees. Following this development, the game will be evaluated for its effects on switching and behaviour by comparing a random selection of individuals asked to engage with Plastic TASTER to a random selection asked to engage with a (placebo) version of the game that places only low demands on switching.