Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 487–497 | Cite as

Anxiety and Attentional Bias in Children with Specific Learning Disorders

  • Stephanie L. Haft
  • Priscilla H. Duong
  • Tiffany C. Ho
  • Robert L. Hendren
  • Fumiko HoeftEmail author


Children with specific learning disorders (SLDs) face a unique set of socio-emotional challenges as a result of their academic difficulties. Although a higher prevalence of anxiety in children with SLD is often reported, there is currently no research on cognitive mechanisms underlying this anxiety. One way to elucidate these mechanisms is to investigate attentional bias to threatening stimuli using a dot-probe paradigm. Our study compared children ages 9–16 with SLD (n = 48) to typically-developing (TD) controls (n = 33) on their attentional biases to stimuli related to general threats, reading, and stereotypes of SLD. We found a significant threat bias away from reading-related stimuli in the SLD, but not TD group. This attentional bias was not observed with the general threat and stereotype stimuli. Further, children with SLD reported greater anxiety compared to TD children. These results suggest that children with SLD experience greater anxiety, which may partially stem from reading specifically. The finding of avoidance rather than vigilance to reading stimuli indicates the use of more top-down attentional control. This work has important implications for therapeutic approaches to anxiety in children with SLD and highlights the need for attention to socio-emotional difficulties in this population. Future research is needed to further investigate the cognitive aspects of socio-emotional difficulties in children with SLD, as well as how this may impact academic outcomes.


Attentional bias Anxiety Dot probe Specific learning disorder Dyslexia Dyscalculia 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All participants provided informed consent under an approved IRB study protocol (UCSF IRB #16-20551).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All participants provided informed consent under an approved IRB study protocol (UCSF IRB #16-20551).

Supplementary material

10802_2018_458_MOESM1_ESM.docx (62 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 62 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Weill Institute for NeurosciencesUniversity of California San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Palo Alto UniversityPalo AltoUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  5. 5.Dyslexia CenterUniversity of California San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  6. 6.Multi-University Precision Learning CenterSan FranciscoUSA
  7. 7.Haskins LaboratoriesNew HavenUSA
  8. 8.Department of NeuropsychiatryKeio University School of MedicineShinjuku TokyoJapan
  9. 9.Brain Research Imaging Center & Department of Psychological SciencesUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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