Attention biases towards and away from threat mark the relation between early dysregulated fear and the later emergence of social withdrawal

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Fearful temperament, mostly studied as behavioral inhibition (BI), has been extensively associated with social withdrawal in childhood and the later emergence of anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety disorder (SAD). Recent studies have characterized a distinct type of fearful temperament marked by high levels of fear in low threat situations – labeled dysregulated fear. Dysregulated fear has been related to SAD over and above risks associated with BI. However, the mechanism by which dysregulated fear is related to SAD has not been studied. Cognitive mechanisms, such as attentional bias towards threat, may be a possible conduit. We examined differences in attentional bias towards threat in six-year-olds who displayed a pattern of dysregulated fear at age two (N= 23) compared with children who did not display dysregulated fear (N=33). Moreover, we examined the concurrent relation between attentional bias and social withdrawal. Results indicated that children characterized by dysregulated fear showed a significant bias away from threat, and that this bias was significantly different from the children without dysregulated fear, who showed no significant bias. Moreover, attentional bias towards threat was positively related to social withdrawal only for the dysregulated fear group. These results are discussed in consideration of the existing knowledge of attentional bias to threat in the developmental and pediatric anxiety literatures, as well as recent studies that find important heterogeneity in attentional bias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA005
Pages (from-to)1067-1078
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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