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Objective: To examine attention bias towards threat faces in a large sample of anxiety disordered youths using a well-established visual probe task.

Method: Study participants included 101 children and adolescents (ages 7- 18 years) with generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia and/or separation anxiety disorder enrolled in a multi-site anxiety treatment study. Non-anxious youths (n = 51; ages 9 – 18 years) were recruited separately. Participants were administered a computerized visual probe task that presents pairs of faces portraying threat (angry), positive (happy) and neutral expressions. They pressed a response-key to indicate the spatial location of a probe that replaced one of the faces on each trial. Attention bias scores were calculated from response times to probes for each emotional face type.

Results: Compared to healthy youths, anxious participants demonstrated a greater attention bias towards threat faces. This threat bias in anxious patients did not significantly vary across the anxiety disorders. There was no group difference in attention bias towards happy faces.

Conclusions: These results suggest that pediatric anxiety disorders are associated with an attention bias towards threat. Future research might examine the manner in which cognitive bias in anxious youth changes with treatment.


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Roy, A. L., Vasa, R. A., Bruck, M., Mogg, K., Bradley, B. P., Sweeney, M.; Bergman, L., McClure-Tone, E. B., Pine, D. S., The CAMS Team. (2008). Attentional bias toward threat in pediatric anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47(10), 1189-1196. DOI: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181825ace

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