Delineation of early attentional control difficulties in fragile X syndrome: focus on neurocomputational changes.
Scerif G., Cornish K., Wilding J., Driver J., Karmiloff-Smith A.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is due to the silencing of a single X-linked gene and it is associated with striking attentional difficulties. As FXS is well characterised at the cellular level, the condition provides a unique opportunity to investigate how a genetic dysfunction can impact on the development of neurocomputational properties relevant to attention. Thirteen young boys with FXS and 13 mental-age-matched typically developing controls performed a touch-screen-based search task that manipulated the similarity between targets and distractors and their heterogeneity in size. Search speed, path and errors were recorded as multiple measures of performance. Children did not differ in overall search speed or path when searching amongst distractors, but striking error patterns distinguished children with FXS from controls. Firstly, although clear markers of previously found targets remained on screen, children with FXS perseverated on touching previous hits more than typically developing controls, consistent with the well-documented inhibitory deficits in adults with the disorder. Secondly, they could accurately discriminate single target-distractor pairs, but, when searching a complex display, they touched distractors more often than control children when distractors were similar to targets and especially so when these were infrequent, highlighting difficulties in judging relative size and allocate attentional weight independently of stimulus frequency. Thirdly, their performance was also characterised by inaccuracies in pointing, suggesting additional motor control deficits. Taken together, the findings suggest that fragile X syndrome affects the early development of multiple processes contributing to efficient attentional selection, as would be predicted from an understanding of the neurocomputational changes associated with the disorder.