Date: 23 Sep 2009

Patterns of Emotional Reactivity and Regulation in Children with Anxiety Disorders

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Abstract

Emotion dysregulation is believed to be a key factor in anxiety disorders. However, the empirical basis for this view is limited, particularly in children and adolescents. This study aimed to examine whether anxious children display negative emotional hyper-reactivity and deficits in emotion regulation, using a new task that presents ambiguous situations with potentially threatening meanings. Forty-nine children diagnosed with either generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or separation anxiety disorder, were compared with 42 non-anxious controls. Relative to controls, anxious children demonstrated (a) greater intensity and frequency of negative emotional responses, (b) deficits in using reappraisal in negative emotional situations and corresponding deficits in reappraisal self-efficacy, and (c) greater reliance on emotion regulation strategies that increase the risk of functional impairment, intense negative emotion, and low emotion regulation self-efficacy. Implications for the assessment and treatment of childhood anxiety are discussed.

This study was supported by a research fund of the Adler Research Center in Tel-Aviv University. The authors would like to thank the Anxiety Disorders Clinic in ‘Schneider’s Children Medical Center of Israel’ for support and collaboration. Special thanks to Ronit Jossifoff, Maya Ferber, Yael Tadmor and Hilit Pritsch for their important contribution to the recruitment and examination of the participants.