Investigation of Threat-Related Attentional Bias in Anxious Children Using the Startle Eyeblink Modification Paradigm
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We used the startle eyeblink modification paradigm to investigate whether clinically anxious children, like high trait-anxious adults, display a bias in favour of threat words compared to neutral words. The present study included 16 clinically anxious children whose diagnostic status was determined using the parent version of a semistructured diagnostic interview as part of a larger childhood anxiety study. The children were presented with threat and neutral words for 6 s each. A startle-eliciting auditory stimulus - a 100 dBA burst of white noise of 50 ms duration - was presented during the words at lead intervals of 60, 120, 240, or 3500 ms and during intertrial intervals. The overall pattern of startle eyeblink modification indicated inhibition at the 120 and 240 ms lead intervals and facilitation at the 3500 ms lead interval. Startle-latency shortening during threat words at the 60 ms lead interval was larger than at other intervals, whereas there was no difference during neutral words. This result reflects an anxiety-related bias in favour of threat words occurring at a very early - and possibly preattentive stage - of information processing.
Journal of Psychophysiology