Classroom displays-Attraction or distraction? Evidence of impact on attention and learning from children with and without autism

Dev Psychol. 2017 Jul;53(7):1265-1275. doi: 10.1037/dev0000271. Epub 2017 May 4.


Paying attention is a critical first step toward learning. For children in primary school classrooms there can be many things to attend to other than the focus of a lesson, such as visual displays on classroom walls. The aim of this study was to use eye-tracking techniques to explore the impact of visual displays on attention and learning for children. Critically, we explored these issues for children developing typically and for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Both groups of children watched videos of a teacher delivering classroom activities-2 of "story-time" and 2 mini lessons. Half of the videos each child saw contained high levels of classroom visual displays in the background (high visual display [HVD]) and half had none (no visual display [NVD]). Children completed worksheets after the mini lessons to measure learning. During viewing of all videos children's eye movements were recorded. The presence of visual displays had a significant impact on attention for all children, but to a greater extent for children with ASD. Visual displays also had an impact on learning from the mini lessons, whereby children had poorer learning scores in the HVD compared with the NVD lesson. Individual differences in age, verbal, nonverbal, and attention abilities were important predictors of learning, but time spent attending the visual displays in HVD was the most important predictor. This novel and timely investigation has implications for the use of classroom visual displays for all children, but particularly for children with ASD. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Schools*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*