Exploring correlates of threat related attention bias in community sample children and adolescents
Attention bias for threatening information is an acknowledged factor that plays a causal or maintaining role in childhood anxiety with small to medium effect sizes. Both clinically anxious and trait anxious children and adolescents show greater AB for threat compared to neutral information and compared to their non-anxious counterparts. However, attention bias is a complex construct with several components. This leads to heterogeneity in the way it is manifested as vigilance towards threat, difficulty in disengaging attention away from threat, or avoidance from threat, which in turn affects efficiency of the techniques that aim to eliminate attention bias and reduce anxiety. So, emerging research have started to explore developmental mechanisms that could modulate and potentially contribute to the heterogeneity in attention bias for threat in children and adolescent populations.Following a systematic database search, three potential correlates of threat related attention bias were identified to be examined further in this thesis based on scarcity of the studies and disputes related to the measurement tools. So, the aim of this thesis was to explore the role of parental transmission (Study 1), attentional control ability (Study 2), and emotion regulation strategy use (Study 3) on children’s attention biases for threat within the context of trait anxiety.Data informing each empirical study came from the same community sample of 112 children and adolescents aged between 8 and 16. In addition to their parents for Study 1, youth participants completed 2000 milliseconds dot-probe task while their eye movements were recorded to measure attention bias, Simon task to measure attentional control ability, and Emotion Regulation Questionnaire-Children (ERQ – CA; Gullone & Taffe, 2011) to measure emotion regulation strategy use.The results suggest that parental attention bias is not a significant correlate of their children’s attention bias in community sample of families. However, children and adolescents’ low attentional control ability, especially executive switching, predicted greater difficulty in disengaging attention from angry faces. Finally, children and adolescents with low cognitive reappraising skills showed greater vigilance and disengagement difficulty for angry faces compared to their high reappraiser counterparts.While the key limitation of the project is that neither parental nor youth sample were representative of high trait anxious individuals, our set of studies provide preliminary results regarding associates of threat related attention bias in youth with low trait anxiety. Accordingly, our results highlight that individual differences in attentional control and emotion regulation abilities could increase vulnerability for threat related attention biases independent of anxiety in normative developmental populations. This has potential implications for psychoeducation programmes for community sample youth, such that aiming to improve control over attention and reappraisal skills as an element of emotion regulation could prevent them from developing or maintaining cognitive biases and the associated emotional difficulties.