Attentional Bias in Youth With Clinical Anxiety: The Moderating Effect of Age

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Abstract

Cognitive models of anxiety suggest that threat-related attentional biases are associated with youth anxiety disorders. Although meta-analyses suggest that anxious youths display a bias toward threat, there is variability among studies, with youths displaying either an attention bias toward or away from threat. One possibility that may account for these discrepancies is the effect of youth age. Previous studies have found an effect of age on attentional biases in nonclinical samples. In this study, we examined the effects of age on attentional biases in youths diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Clinically anxious youths (N = 33) completed the probe detection task using threat-related word stimuli. Our results revealed a significant effect of age, with older youths (11-17 years) displaying a significant bias away from threat and younger youths (8-10 years) displaying a nonsignificant bias toward threat. These findings suggest that anxious youth may have either an attentional bias toward or away from threat-related words depending on age.

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