Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 225-235

First online:

Vigilance and Avoidance of Threat in the Eye Movements of Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Tina In-AlbonAffiliated withClinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, University of Basel Email author 
  • , Joe KossowskyAffiliated withClinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, University of Basel
  • , Silvia SchneiderAffiliated withClinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, University of Basel

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The vigilance-avoidance attention pattern is found in anxious adults, who initially gaze more at threatening pictures than nonanxious adults (vigilance), but subsequently gaze less at them than nonanxious adults (avoidance). The present research, using eye tracking methodology, tested whether anxious children show the same pattern. Children with separation anxiety disorder or no mental disorder viewed pairs of pictures, while the direction of their gaze was tracked. Each picture pair showed one picture of a woman separating from a child, the other picture of a woman reuniting with a child. The results supported the vigilance-avoidance model in children. Although the two groups’ gaze direction did not differ during the first second of viewing, anxious children gazed significantly more at separating (threatening) pictures than nonanxious children after a period of 1 s. But after 3 s the pattern reversed: anxious children gazed significantly less at the separating pictures than nonanxious children.


Attentional bias Eye movement Separation anxiety disorder Vigilance-avoidance model