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27-11-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 3/2018

Cognitive Therapy and Research 3/2018

Attentional Bias in Children with Social Anxiety Disorder

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 3/2018
Steffen Schmidtendorf, Susanne Wiedau, Julia Asbrand, Brunna Tuschen-Caffier, Nina Heinrichs


Previous research stated a robust attentional bias to threat in adult anxiety. However, the number of studies analyzing attentional biases in clinically anxious children is limited and results are inconsistent. The present study aims to assess attentional biases in children with social anxiety disorder (n = 37) and healthy control children (n = 42) using a free-viewing eye-tracking paradigm. Children viewed different picture pairs consisting of social and non-social stimuli under two conditions (with/without a stressor to activate social threat perception). We found the direction of gaze regarding threatening stimuli to be context-dependent. Both groups showed a hypervigilance-avoidance pattern to angry faces when they were paired with houses. In face–face trials, angry faces were less often initially fixated than neutral or happy faces in both groups. However, schema activation differentially affected initial fixations in angry-neutral face pairs across groups. Children with social anxiety disorder more often initially directed their gaze to angry faces than did healthy control children, indicating a lack of inhibiting threat representations rather than a hypervigilance to threat.

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