Involuntary Eye Movements May Detect ADHD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • A new study found that ADHD can be detected based on involuntary eye movements. Over the past months, a number of studies have focused on finding definitive ways to diagnose ADHD:

    The most recent study, completed at the Tel Aviv University, analyzed involuntary eye movements and blinking of participants as they took a standard, computerized ADHD diagnostic test called the Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA.) The scientists used an eye-monitoring system to monitor involuntary eye movements and blinking in two groups of participants, one group of 22 with ADHD and one group of 22 without ADHD. The researchers hoped to find a new way to test for ADHD and to determine if stimulant medication is effective.

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    For the first part of the test, both groups spent about 20 minutes taking the computerized test. The group diagnosed with ADHD had significantly higher rates of blinking and saccades, which are quick, simultaneous movements of both eyes in the same direction. The movement rates in both groups increased as the session progressed, however, for the group with ADHD, the rates were higher during times when the stimulus on the screen appeared and remained higher than the control group throughout the test. Those with ADHD were unable to “suppress movement in anticipation of visual stimuli.”


    In order to determine whether stimulant medication had any effect, both groups took the test a second time. The ADHD group, however, was given methylphenidate (Ritalin) before taking the test. The control group was not given any medication. The results showed that, with medication, the blinking and saccades were more on level with the control group, indicating that stimulant medication has a definitive effect on ADHD.


    The researchers are very optimistic about the potential for using this test to detect ADHD. In a press release, the lead author, Dr. Moshe Fried stated, “This test is affordable and accessible, rendering it a practical and foolproof tool for medical professionals. With other tests, you can slip up, make ‘mistakes’ – intentionally or not. But our test cannot be fooled. Eye movements tracked in this test are involuntary, so they constitute a sound physiological marker of ADHD.”


    Diagnosing ADHD is currently done through screening tests, observation and questionnaires completed by parents, teachers or the patient. There is no laboratory test that provides a definitive diagnosis. While many experts believe that this process provides an accurate diagnosis, some medical professionals and parents worry about overdiagnosis or overprescribing of stimulant medications. A test such as this would go far to end this debate. 

Published On: September 22, 2014