Salum, G.A., Mogg, K., Bradley, B.P., Gadelha, A., Pan, P., Tananaha, A.C., Moriyama, T., Graeff-Martins, A.S., Jarros, R.B., Polanczyk, G., do Rosario, M.C., Leibenluft, E., Rohde, L.A., Manfro, G.G. and Pine, D.S.
Threat bias in attention orienting: evidence of specificity in a large community-based study
Psychological Medicine, 43, (4), . (doi:10.1017/S0033291712001651).
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Background: Preliminary research implicates threat-related attention biases in pediatric anxiety disorders. However, major questions exist concerning diagnostic specificity, effects of symptom-severity levels, and threat-stimulus exposure durations in attention paradigms. This study examines these issues in a large, community school-based sample.
Methods: A total of 2,046 children (ages 6-to-12) were assessed using the Development and Well Being Assessment (DAWBA), Childhood Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and dot-probe tasks. Children were classified based on presence or absence of “fear-related” disorders, “distress-related” disorders, and behavior disorders. Two dot-probe tasks, which differed in stimulus exposure, assessed attention biases for happy-face and threat-face cues. The main analysis included 1774 children.
Results: For attention bias scores, a three-way interaction emerged among face-cue emotional valence, diagnostic group, and internalizing-symptom severity (F=2.87, p<0.05). This interaction reflected different associations between internalizing symptom severity and threat-related attention bias across diagnostic groups. In children with no diagnosis (n=1411; mean difference=11.03; SE=3.47, df=1, p<0.001) and those with distress-related disorders (n=66; mean difference=10.63; SE=5.24, df=1, p<0.05), high internalizing symptoms predicted vigilance towards threat. However, in children with fear-related disorders (n=86; mean difference=-11.90; SE=5.94, df=1; p<0.05), high internalizing symptoms predicted an opposite tendency, manifesting as greater bias away from threat. These associations did not emerge in the behavior-disorder group (n=211).
Conclusions: The association between internalizing symptoms and biased orienting varies with the nature of developmental psychopathology. Both the form and severity of psychopathology moderates threat-related attention biases in children.
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