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Attention biases towards threatening and sad stimuli are associated with pediatric anxiety and depression, respectively. The basic cognitive mechanisms associated with attention biases in youth, however, remain unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that threat bias (selective attention for threatening versus neutral stimuli) but not sad bias relies on stimulus-driven attention. We collected measures of stimulus-driven attention, threat bias, sad bias, and current clinical symptoms in youth with a history of an anxiety disorder and/or depression (ANX/DEP; n = 40) as well as healthy controls (HC; n = 33). Stimulus-driven attention was measured with a non-emotional spatial orienting task, while threat bias and sad bias were measured at a short time interval (150 ms) with a spatial orienting task using emotional faces and at a longer time interval (500 ms) using a dot-probe task. In ANX/DEP but not HC, early attention bias towards threat was negatively correlated with later attention bias to threat, suggesting that early threat vigilance was associated with later threat avoidance. Across all subjects, stimulus-driven orienting was not correlated with early threat bias but was negatively correlated with later threat bias, indicating that rapid stimulus-driven orienting is linked to later threat avoidance. No parallel relationships were detected for sad bias. Current symptoms of depression but not anxiety were related to decreased stimulus-driven attention. Together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that threat bias but not sad bias relies on stimulus-driven attention. These results inform the design of attention bias modification programs that aim to reverse threat biases and reduce symptoms associated with pediatric anxiety and depression.
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- Stimulus-Driven Attention, Threat Bias, and Sad Bias in Youth with a History of an Anxiety Disorder or Depression
Chad M. Sylvester
James J. Hudziak
Michael S. Gaffrey
Deanna M. Barch
Joan L. Luby
- Springer US