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J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2011 Jan;39(1):125-35. doi: 10.1007/s10802-010-9438-6.

Attentional biases for emotional faces in young children of mothers with chronic or recurrent depression.

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Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-2500, USA.


Attentional biases for negative stimuli have been observed in school-age and adolescent children of depressed mothers and may reflect a vulnerability to depression. The direction of these biases and whether they can be identified in early childhood remains unclear. The current study examined attentional biases in 5-7-year-old children of depressed and non-depressed mothers. Following a mood induction, children participated in a dot-probe task assessing biases for sad and happy faces. There was a significant interaction of group and sex: daughters of depressed mothers attended selectively to sad faces, while children of controls and sons of depressed mothers did not exhibit biases. No effects were found for happy stimuli. These findings suggest that attentional biases are discernible in early childhood and may be vulnerability markers for depression. The results also raise the possibility that sex differences in cognitive biases are evident before the emergence of sex differences in the prevalence of depression.

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