PuMA Lab (Perception and Motion Analysis)

Contact us: k.wilmut@brookes.ac.uk Follow us on twitter: @BrookesPUMA

About us

The work that we carry out in the PuMA Lab falls into 3 broad categories: 

  • perception and motor control
  • handwriting
  • development of assessment tools. 
We are interested in both typical and atypical development in children and adults, with a major focus on Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and associated difficulties. However, our research also encompasses other groups including older adults and individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Two cameras pointing towards a hand with sensors

Latest findings

Differences in brain [mind] activity in individuals with motor difficulties and attentional difficulties

In collaboration with Emily Meachon at the University of Manheim in Germany, we collected data on brain activity in adults using electroencephalography, or EEG. This was part of a long-running recruitment effort in Germany and the UK, involving 59 adults with Developmental Coordination Disorder/Dyspraxia, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, both conditions, or neither condition to take part in the study. 

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One of the tasks was involved a circle or square being shown on the computer screen, and you had to press a key to indicate which shape you saw. Sometimes, a frame around the shape would turn blue and that meant you should try not to press a key. This task was meant to be challenging, because it specifically engaged some symptoms of DCD and/or ADHD. 

We wanted to see if there were any differences between adults with DCD and/or ADHD and adults with neither of these conditions in the process of trying to inhibit a motor response. We found that, overall, all groups were just as accurate and just as fast in completing the task. However, there were differences between the groups in brain [mind] activity during the task, meaning that there were unique ways adults with ADHD, DCD, both conditions, or neither condition used mental resources to complete the task. 

We interpreted this as an impressive compensation for symptoms in adults with DCD and/or ADHD, who were able to perform the same at the surface-level, even if the underlying mental processes to achieve this result were different (eg required more effort).

Collecting data on brain activity using EEG

Road crossing: the lived experience of children and adults with DCD

Adult walking across a pedestrian crossing

In collaboration with Dr. Catherine Purcell at Cardiff University, we collected questionnaire data asking about the experience of road crossing in both adults and children with DCD/Dyspraxia (child based experiences were reported by parents).

We asked how people felt about their (or their child’s) road crossing, about actual behaviours at the roadside and about perception of the likelihood of accidents happening (to look for a ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude).

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Many of our participants reported that their DCD/Dyspraxia affected their road crossing behaviour. Factors such as judging speed and distance, increased caution or lowered awareness were cited as reasons.

Individuals who had DCD/Dyspraxia alongside ADHD and/or ASD reported more of what would be considered ‘risky behaviour’ such as forgetting to look or running across the road without looking.

Finally, an ‘it won’t happen to me attitude’ did not explain any increased risk, with the adults in this study demonstrating a real understanding of the likelihood of accidents.

We’ve published these findings in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and the full article will be available soon. You can read the open access article here.

Coordinating movement on a pedalo

All movement requires some coordination; the linking together of different body parts to produce smooth movement. If we take a simple task such as walking, the way in which the body is coordinated during this task may be different for different people (eg a child vs an adult) and may vary if we change the task (walking fast vs walking slowly). 

In this case, walking is unimpaired and the differences we see are subtle but they help us to understand how movement is controlled. We recently ran a study to consider coordination of adolescents with DCD on a novel task, the pedalo task.

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All of our participants pedalled up and down the lab even though this was a completely new task, however the group without DCD tended to produce faster and smoother movements. We saw differences in the way in which the arms and shoulders were coordinated across the group with and the group without DCD and these differences were seemingly linked to how smooth the pedalling movement was.

Person on a pedalo

Current projects

A person sat at a desk with red and yellow pegs in a blue peg board

Anna is working with Pearson Clinical UK on new editions of the popular DASH, DASH17+ and Movement ABC-2 tools. Data collection has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic but is due to start later in 2021.

Anna is also working with colleagues to develop a new Writing Quality Scale (WQS) to be used in conjunction with the DASH17+ and her Handwriting Legibility Scale (HLS) to provide a comprehensive assessment of writing skill. Findings will be presented at the 12th British Dyslexia Association International Conference in May 2021.

Kate is working with colleagues at Cardiff University and the Bikeability Trust to assess cycle training in children with Special Educational Needs/disabilities.