Anxiety and Attentional Bias in Preschool-Aged Children: An Eyetracking Study
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Extensive research has examined attentional bias for threat in anxious adults and school-aged children but it is unclear when this anxiety-related bias is first established. This study uses eyetracking technology to assess attentional bias in a sample of 83 children aged 3 or 4 years. Of these, 37 (19 female) met criteria for an anxiety disorder and 46 (30 female) did not. Gaze was recorded during a free-viewing task with angry-neutral face pairs presented for 1250 ms. There was no indication of between-group differences in threat bias, with both anxious and non-anxious groups showing vigilance for angry faces as well as longer dwell times to angry over neutral faces. Importantly, however, the anxious participants spent significantly less time looking at the faces overall, when compared to the non-anxious group. The results suggest that both anxious and non-anxious preschool-aged children preferentially attend to threat but that anxious children may be more avoidant of faces than non-anxious children.
KeywordsAttentional bias Faces Anxiety Avoidance Vigilance Child
This research was conducted as part of an Australian Research Council funded project (DP0878609 & DP0342793) held by Professor Hudson. Thank you to the interns and students who helped with stimuli, data collection and coding for this project, including Laurie Monier, Anni Kuusik, and Irma Knuistingh. Thanks also to Emily Connaughton and Eugene McSorely for their help with the eye-tracking data, Suzannah Ravenscroft for her comments on an earlier draft and to the families who participated.
Conflict of Interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
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