Impaired selective attention as a cognitive and neurophysiological marker of ME/CFS

Project Teams & Collaborators

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Doug Barrett School of Psychology & Vision Sciences
David Souto School of Psychology & Vision Sciences
Claire Hutchinson Department of Psychology
Anosha Altaf (PhD student) School of Psychology & Vision Sciences

Background and Research Questions

Individuals with ME/CFS often report visual overload, difficulties filtering relevant from irrelevant visual information, and fatigue during visual search. Despite the prevalence of these symptoms, little is known about the way ME/CFS impacts sufferers’ ability to perceive and prioritise objects in the visual scene. Similar difficulties are also associated with Long COVID, but the extent these symptoms overlap with those of ME/CFS is currently unknown.

The PhD studentship from ME Research UK provides an exciting opportunity to investigate commonly reported, but under researched symptoms in ME/CFS. Cognitive deficits are a debilitating and pervasive characteristic of both ME/CFS and Long COVID. Identifying reliable markers of these deficits, however, has proved difficult. This may reflect variability in sufferers’ symptoms, or the lack of specificity of standardised neuropsychological tests to the cognitive impairment in ME/CFS and Long COVID.

This project will target cognitive mechanisms that relate directly to commonly reported symptoms to quantify the impact of ME/CFS and Long COVID on visual perception and attention. These mechanisms play an important role in everyday visual tasks that require sustained attention, such as browsing websites for information and driving. The results will provide important insights into the relationship between fatigue, visual perception, and attention, as well as the extent these reflect common or distinct patterns of neural responses in individuals with ME/CFS and Long COVID.

The project will address three key questions:

  1. How do ME/CFS and Long COVID affect visual sensory processing?
  2. How do ME/CFS and Long COVID affect individuals’ ability to prioritise relevant over irrelevant visual information (selective attention)?
  3. Can carefully controlled tests of visual selective attention provide a diagnostic marker of ME/CFS and do perceptual and cognitive symptoms overlap with those associated with Long COVID?

Getting Involved

 We are keen to engage with and learn from individuals about their experience of ME/CFS and Long COVID and how their condition affects their ability to focus on visual information during everyday tasks. We are hoping to recruit up to thirty participants with ME/CFS and thirty with Long COVID who can attend sessions at the University. We are also looking to recruit a larger, more representative sample whose symptoms make it difficult to travel, for online sessions. Participants will receive payment for their time and reasonable travel expenses, and we will publish anonymised results and study findings via a freely available website.

If you have ME/CFS or Long COVID and are interested in taking part in the study, please use the secure form below to send us your details. Participants of the campus-based sessions will be invited to the George Davies Centre on the University of Leicester’s city campus, where sessions will involve completing some questionnaires, visual screening (acuity charts) and computer-based visual tasks. Participants will receive Amazon vouchers (£11.00 p/hour) and sessions will take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the study.

If you are interested in taking part, or would like more information about the project, please use the form below. You can also e-mail Anosha ( directly.


This 3-year PhD-level research project is supported by ME Research UK.

More Information

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