Attentional Control Theory in Childhood: Enhanced Attentional Capture by Non-emotional and Emotional Distractors in Anxiety and Depression

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Abstract

Attentional control theory (ACT) proposes that anxiety is associated with executive functioning deficits. The theory has been widely investigated in adults. The current study tested whether symptoms of childhood anxiety and depression were associated with experimentally measured attentional control in the context of non-emotional and emotional stimuli. Sixty-one children (mean age = 9.23 years, range = 8.39–10.41) reported their trait anxiety and depression symptoms and completed three visual search tasks. The tasks used a variant of an irrelevant singleton paradigm and measured attentional capture by task-irrelevant non-emotional (color) and emotional (facial expressions) distractors. Significant attentional capture by both non-emotional and emotional distractors was observed, and was significantly correlated with trait anxiety and symptoms of depression. The strength of relationship between attentional capture and the symptoms did not differ significantly for non-emotional and emotional distractors. The results suggest that symptoms of childhood anxiety and depression are associated with poorer attentional control both in the presence of emotional and non-emotional stimuli, supporting ACT in younger populations. This attentional deficit in the context of non-emotional information might be as central to childhood internalizing symptoms as attentional biases often observed on tasks investigating processing of emotional stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalPL o S One
Volume10
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2015

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