Attention bias toward threat in pediatric anxiety disorders

Document Type



anxiety disorders, attentional bias, threat


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Objective: To examine attention bias toward threat faces in a large sample of anxiety-disordered youths using a well- established visual probe task. Method: Study participants included 101 children and adolescents (ages 7Y18 years) with generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and/or separation anxiety disorder enrolled in a multisite anxiety treatment study. Nonanxious youths (n = 51; ages 9Y18 years) were recruited separately. Participants were administered a computerized visual probe task that presents pairs of faces portraying threat (angry), positive (happy), and neutral expressions. They pressed a response key to indicate the spatial location of a probe that replaced one of the faces on each trial. Attention bias scores were calculated from response times to probes for each emotional face type. Results: Compared to healthy youths, anxious participants demonstrated a greater attention bias toward threat faces. This threat bias in anxious patients did not significantly vary across the anxiety disorders. There was no group difference in attention bias toward happy faces. Conclusions: These results suggest that pediatric anxiety disorders are associated with an attention bias toward threat. Future research may examine the manner in which cognitive bias in anxious youths changes

with treatment.

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