Attention Bias Heterogeneity and Brain Structure in Adolescents With Anxiety

Margaret Suzanne Benda, Fordham University


Attention bias (AB) to threat is a key transdiagnostic mechanism implicated in the etiology and maintenance of pediatric anxiety disorders. However, little is known about whether different presentations of AB (towards or away from threat), which may have clinical, diagnostic significance, have distinct neural profiles in children and adolescents. The present study extends previous work on anxiety-related AB by investigating AB phenotype and its association with neuroanatomy in adolescents (aged 12-14 years) with moderate to severe anxiety. Attention bias was measured using a free-viewing eye-tracking task in which adolescents simultaneously viewed images of angry and neutral faces. Structural magnetic resonance imaging was obtained and used for primary analyses. Gray matter volume and cortical thickness of brain regions implicated in cognitive control and attention were compared between adolescents who exhibited an AB towards versus an AB away from threat. Exploratory whole-brain analyses of cortical regions were also conducted to examine whether any brain regions outside of our regions of interest exhibited structural abnormalities related to AB. In this study, anxious adolescents with AB towards versus AB away from threat did not differ in gray matter volume or cortical thickness of the hypothesized brain regions. Whole-brain analyses also did not yield significant differences between the two AB groups. These results suggest that AB phenotypes are not related to structural alterations in brain regions involved in cognitive control and attention. Functional MRI, which may be better equipped to examine neural networks, should be utilized by future studies to investigate the neural basis of AB phenotypes in pediatric anxiety.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Neurosciences|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Benda, Margaret Suzanne, "Attention Bias Heterogeneity and Brain Structure in Adolescents With Anxiety" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30570305.