, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 267-279

Biased attention in childhood Anxiety disorders: A preliminary study

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Abstract

This study provides preliminary tests of two hypotheses: (1) Anxiety-disordered children show an attentional bias toward emotionally threatening stimuli, and (2) normal controls show an attentional bias away from emotionally threatening stimuli. Twelve children, 9 to 14 years of age, with primary diagnoses of anxiety disorder were compared with 12 normal controls matched for age, gender, vocabulary level, and reading ability. Subjects completed a reaction time task that measured visual attention toward threatening versus neutral words. The anxious group showed the predicted attentional bias toward threat words. However, controls did not show the predicted bias away from threat words. These results are the first showing that biased attentional processing occurs among clinically anxious children. The potential role of such an attentional bias in childhood anxiety disorders and future direction for research are discussed.

This research was supported by a Seed Grant and a Small Grant to the first author from The Ohio State University. Portions of this paper were presented at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Atlanta, November 1993. Thanks are extended to the participants and all those who helped with the project.