Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Attentional Mechanisms in Subclinical Anxiey in School-Aged Children

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Attentional Mechanisms in Subclinical Anxiey in School-Aged Children

Article excerpt


Attentional mechanisms were investigated in a sample of primary school children (aged 9 -11). Based on The Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale scores, we split the sample into high versus low anxiety groups. The attentional mechanisms were explored using two versions of Simon Tasks: a classical Simon Task (ST) and an Emotional Simon Task (EST - including photographs of men and women with calm or fearful emotional expressions). Attention Network Task was introduced because it enabled us to investigate the alerting, orienting, and executive attention mechanisms, using a single task. In Study 1 (n = 89) we found no associations between the level of subclinical anxiety and the performance in ST. In study 2a (n = 37), results showed differences between the low versus high anxiety groups in EST, for the calm facial expressions condition and also for incongruent trials of the fearful facial expressions condition. In study 2b (n = 32), the orienting scores of children with low anxiety levels were associated with their performance for EST congruent trials (fearful condition) (r = .69, p < .01), respectively ST incongruent trials (r = .64, p < .01). The results are discussed from the perspective of Attentional Control Theory (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009).

KEYWORDS: attentional mechanisms, response inhibition, anxiety, children


Researchers became more and more interested in studying the factors involved in the etiology of childhood Anxiety Disorders (AD) during the last three decades. One of the reasons for this is the high percentage (10 to 20%) of younger affected population (Costello et al., 1996; Costello, Mustillo, Erkanli, Keeler, & Angold, 2003). Moreover, some studies consider the risk of developing subclinical anxiety in childhood being as high as 43% (Schneider, Johnson, Hornig, Liebowitz, & Weissman, 1992). Further reasons to study the AD are given by the associations between these disorders and academical and social difficulties (Ialongo, Edelsohn, Werthamer-Larsson, Crockett, & Kellam, 1995; La Greca & Lopez, 1998; Strauss, Last, Hersen, & Kazdin, 1988), respectively by the percent of adults diagnosed with AD, who report having these kinds of difficulties since childhood (Pollack, Otto, Sabatino, Majcher, Worthington, McArdle, Rosenbaum, 1996). Although some researchers consider that such early symptoms start to minimize during adulthood (Gaudiano & Herbert, 2003), it is necessary to understand the etiology and maintaining factors of childhood AD, in order to consider better ways of early prevention and intervention.

Cognitive theories of anxiety include biased cognitive processing of threat in the etiology and maintenance of these disorders (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009; Eysenck et al, 2007; Williams, Watts, MacLeod, & Mathews, 1998) and consider attentional mechanisms (attentional biases, in particular) fundamental to understanding how cognitive processes are affected and also influence AD. The perspectives on how attentional processes are involved in AD support the assumption that AD are associated with an increased amount of attentional resources directed towards detecting and processing threatening information. There are several attentional mechanisms associated with such a biased processing of threat. Anxious individuals are thought to display: an increased vigilance in respect to threatening stimuli; orienting attentional resources towards threat - especially highly anxious individuals (Williams et al., 1998); a pattern of vigilance followed by avoidance, in respect to threat (Egloff & Hock, 2002; Mogg & Bradley, 1998; Mogg, Bradley, Dixon, Fisher, Twelftree, & McWilliams, 2000). Other studies highlight difficulties in disengaging attentional resources from threat (Fox, Russo, Bowles, & Dutton, 2001; Fox, Russo, & Dutton, 2002; Georgiou et al., 2005).

Empirical evidence shows that anxious children and adults experience distorted attentional processes, but these results may be task-dependent (Bar-Haim, Lamy, Pergamin, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & IJzendoom, 2007). …

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