Testing a Cognitive Pathway Between Temperament and Childhood Anxiety

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Abstract

Though early fearful temperament is a robust predictor of anxiety disorder symptoms it remains unclear what links these two factors. Cognitive theories of anxiety have recently implicated individual differences in attentional control and worry as mediators of this relation; however, this pathway remains largely untested in youth. The current study examined the associations between fearful temperament, attentional control, worry, and anxiety during a period critical for the development of attentional control and worry. Participants were 152 parent-child dyads between the ages of 7 and 12 years old. Parents completed measures of child temperament and executive function, and children completed measures of worry and anxiety symptoms. A serial multiple mediator analysis was conducted with PROCESS for SPSS to examine a cognitive pathway between temperament and anxiety in this cross-sectional sample. Overall the data supported the study hypotheses. Attentional control and worry serially mediated the relation between temperament and anxiety, with worry mediating the relation between attentional control and anxiety. The study also tested two reversed mediational models and found that the directionality in the proposed model was unique. These findings suggest that children who are more fearful are less able to control their attention. Among these children, worry may emerge as a low effort cognitive process, which contributes to increased anxiety.

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Author Contributions

CG: designed and executed this study, assisted with data analysis, and wrote the paper. EG: analyzed data and assisted with writing the results. BA: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. JW: collaborated with the design and writing of the study, and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Colette Gramszlo.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at the University of Louisville and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Gramszlo, C., Geronimi, E.M., Arellano, B. et al. Testing a Cognitive Pathway Between Temperament and Childhood Anxiety. J Child Fam Stud 27, 580–590 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-017-0914-2

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Keywords

  • Child anxiety
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Worry
  • Temperament
  • Attentional control