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Behav Res Ther. 2008 Apr;46(4):450-61. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.01.012. Epub 2008 Jan 29.

Plasticity in attention: implications for stress response in children.

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The Adler Center for Research in Child Development and Psychopathology, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


Attention bias has been suggested as an etiological and maintaining factor in anxiety. However, empirical evidence establishing this causal association is scarce and has been provided only in adults. In this preliminary study, we tested whether an induction of attentional bias can cause changes in vulnerability to stress in children reporting normal anxiety levels. Twenty-six 7-12 year-old children were randomly assigned to two groups. One group was exposed to a training condition designed to induce an attentional bias away from threat. The other group was exposed to a training condition designed to induce an attentional bias toward threat. Children who were trained to attend to threat developed attentional vigilance to threat-related information. The training procedure was ineffective with children who were trained to avoid threat, and their attention remained unbiased. Children from both training groups reported elevated depression scores following stress-induction. However, only the children who were trained to attend to threat subsequently reported elevations in anxiety. The findings suggest that biased attentional responses to threat, among children, can exert a specific influence on the tendency to experience anxiety in the face of stress.

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