EARLY ATTENTION PROCESSES AND ANXIETY IN CHILDREN1,2

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Abstract

It has been hypothesized that anxiety in children is associated with attentional bias in the early stages of information processing. Bias towards threat indicates the tendency of an individual to direct attention towards threatening information. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether high test-anxiety in a sample of nonreferred children is associated with attentional bias towards threat pictures, and if low test-anxiety is associated with attentional bias away from threat pictures. A probe-detection task was used with 44 10- to 13-yr.-old children. The overall analyses indicated the presence of an attentional bias away from threatening pictures in these nonreferred children. However, in relation to anxiety, the study did not confirm that high anxious children show an attentional bias towards threatening pictures or that low anxious children show an attentional bias away from threatening pictures. Yet, higher anxiety did seem to be associated with longer mean response times. These longer response times might originate from the interpretation of the nature of a stimulus as too threatening, compared to the actual threatening content, in the first stage of information processing. This finding could be useful to improve treatment methods aimed at anxiety symptoms during childhood.

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