Negative affectivity and EEG asymmetry interact to predict emotional interference on attention in early school-aged children

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Abstract

Negative affectivity (NA) is a broad construct that has been associated with the development of psychopathologies, such as anxiety, and with exaggerated attention to threatening stimuli. EEG asymmetry reflects biological individual differences in emotional reactivity that may underlie the association between NA and attention to threat. The present study included a sample of 31 five-seven year olds (M age in months = 74.39, SD = 6.57) to test the hypothesis that greater NA, combined with greater right anterior and posterior asymmetries, predicts increased attention interference following threat stimuli. Children completed an executive attention task which presented task-irrelevant threat (angry) and non-threat (neutral) faces prior to each trial. EEG asymmetry was measured at baseline for anterior, anterior-temporal and posterior scalp regions and child NA was measured via maternal report. As predicted, children showing greater NA and greater right anterior-temporal asymmetry showed more attention interference following angry faces. Additionally, two trend-level effects emerged: children showing greater NA and greater left anterior-temporal asymmetry showed less attention interference following angry faces, and children showing greater NA and greater left posterior asymmetry showed less attention interference, but only following neutral faces. Discussion focuses on the utility of using EEG asymmetry in the study of temperament, attentional biases, and the biological processes by which temperament confers risk for psychopathology.

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