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Associations between Disorder-Specific Symptoms of Anxiety and Error-Monitoring Brain Activity in Young Children


Anxiety disorders are among the earliest emerging disorders and most common mental health problem across the lifespan. A common characteristic of individuals with anxiety is poor attentional and cognitive control. Therefore, researchers are interested in how cognitive functioning relates to anxiety in young children. In particular, research has demonstrated associations between anxiety and electrophysiological markers of cognitive control skills such as the error-related negativity (ERN). The nature of the anxiety-ERN relationship is not well understood, however. The purpose of the present study was to examine: 1) the association between the ERN and diagnostically-defined symptoms of different anxiety disorders; and 2) the extent to which disorder-specific symptoms of anxiety moderated the association between ERN and behavioral performance on a Go/No-Go task in a sample of 139 children 5–8 years of age (70 females and 69 males). Results suggest that more separation anxiety disorder (SAD) symptoms are associated with a smaller ΔERN, even after controlling for other anxiety disorder symptoms. Children with more SAD symptoms showed higher error rates and failed to exhibit the expected association between ΔERN and behavioral performance, suggesting ineffective error-monitoring in young children with SAD problems.

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    Parents also completed the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ; Meyer et al. 1990) to measure their own trait level of worry. After accounting for variance shared with parent self-reported worry, parent-reported SAD remained significantly associated with a smaller ∆ERN (r = 0.23, p = 0.01).


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Correspondence to Sharon L. Lo.

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This study was funded by the Fuller Theological Seminary/Thrive Center in concert with the John Templeton Foundation (IH116).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Lo, S.L., Schroder, H.S., Fisher, M.E. et al. Associations between Disorder-Specific Symptoms of Anxiety and Error-Monitoring Brain Activity in Young Children. J Abnorm Child Psychol 45, 1439–1448 (2017).

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  • Error-related negativity
  • Children
  • Separation anxiety
  • Behavioral Performanc