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Anxiety and the Processing of Emotionally Threatening Stimuli: Distinctive Patterns of Selective Attention among High- and Low-Test-Anxious Children

Michael W. Vasey, Nagat El-Hag and Eric L. Daleiden
Child Development
Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jun., 1996), pp. 1173-1185
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131886
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131886
Page Count: 13
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Anxiety and the Processing of Emotionally Threatening Stimuli: Distinctive Patterns of Selective Attention among High- and Low-Test-Anxious Children
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Abstract

There is substantial evidence that clinically referred and nonreferred high-anxious adults selectively shift attention toward threatening stimuli. In contrast, low-anxious adults shift attention away from threatening stimuli. Recent evidence suggests that clinically referred anxious children also selectively attend to threatening information. The present study tested for the presence of such a bias in a nonreferred sample of high-anxious children and also included the first adequate test for an attentional bias away from threat among low-anxious children. 20 high- and 20 low-test-anxious children, 11-14 years of age, completed a task in which visual attention was indexed by latency to detect probes following emotionally threatening and neutral words. Results supported the predicted attentional bias toward threat cues among high-test-anxious children. Unexpectedly, the predicted attentional bias away from threat cues was found only among low-test-anxious boys. Low-test-anxious girls attended equally to threatening and neutral words. In sum, selective attention mechanisms influence children's processing of threatening information and may play a role in the regulation and dysregulation of childhood anxiety.

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