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20-03-2019 | Uitgave 9/2019 Open Access

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 9/2019

Associations Between Attentional Bias and Interpretation Bias and Change in School Concerns and Anxiety Symptoms During the Transition from Primary to Secondary School

Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology > Uitgave 9/2019
Kathryn J. Lester, Stephen C. Lisk, Ewan Carr, Fiona Patrick, Thalia C. Eley
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-019-00528-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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The transition from primary to secondary school is often associated with a period of heightened anxiety and worry. For most children, any feelings of anxiety subside relatively quickly but for a small minority, emotional difficulties can continue into the first year of secondary school and beyond. This study recruited 109 children and measured their anxiety symptoms and school concerns toward the end of primary school and again at the end of their first term of secondary school. We investigated for the first time whether pre-transition measures of attentional and interpretation bias, and the magnitude of change in attentional bias toward and away from threat stimuli were associated with pre- and post-transition measures of anxiety and school concerns, and the change in these measures over time. Over 50% of the current sample exceeded clinical levels of anxiety at pre-transition. However, anxiety symptoms and school concerns had significantly reduced by post-transition. Higher levels of pre-transition anxiety or school concerns, and a greater magnitude of change in attentional bias towards threat stimuli predicted a larger reduction in anxiety symptoms and school concerns across the transition period. A greater interpretation bias toward threat was associated with higher pre-transition anxiety symptoms and school concerns but not post-transition scores, or the change in these scores. While many children experience heightened anxiety prior to school transition, this appears to be largely temporary and self-resolves. Nonetheless, the current findings highlight the importance of monitoring children’s anxiety and concerns, and related cognitive processes during this important transition period.

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