Developmental Differences in Child and Adolescent Reasoning About Anxiety Sensations



The development of reasoning as to the potential negative consequences of emotional sensations is a critical aspect of emotion knowledge and central to cognitive risk for anxiety disorders. The purpose of this paper is to explore the reasoning children and adolescents give for negative interpretations of anxiety sensations, testing a priori hypotheses quantitatively and exploring the content of the reasons qualitatively.


This study used a cross sectional design with interviews as well as cognitive and emotional assessments in a sample of 227 youth aged 6–17 years. Coding schemes to assess the logical validity, affective valence, and qualitative reasons that youth give to evaluate anxiety sensations and anxiety situations were developed.


Findings indicated diverse reasoning was used and responses could be reliably coded with developmental differences across age, cognitive, and verbal development. The logical sophistication of the reasoning used by youth increased across age in a non-linear manner and linearly with cognitive and verbal abilities. Child anxiety sensitivity and internalizing symptom levels moderated the main effect of age.


The results add to the existing understanding of emotional development and are consistent with the idea that the process of cognitive-emotional understanding is not a simple linear one because various domains may show differential development.

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Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Black youth had lower logical validity ratings but were on average younger than white and Hispanic youth in the study sample. Importantly, when controlling for age no differences in logical validity or affective valence ratings emerged across ethnic/racial groups.

  2. 2.

    We also saw similarity of findings with just the anxiety items of RCADS. We found relatively low internal consistency on the depression scale and so did not analyze depression separately. Total scale had high internal consistency at .93. Detailed output and data files are available from the first author.

  3. 3.

    This effect was significant with the RCADS outlier removed as well with model R2 = 0.22, p < 0.001, interaction term t(205) = 2.26; β = 0.15, p = 0.025.

  4. 4.

    The RCADS outlier was not in this analysis by virtue of the subsample.

  5. 5.

    Details of the specific item coding scheme and the top 10 specific codes for each item are available upon request.


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The research reported here was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH067572) awarded to Carl F. Weems. The authors would like to acknowledge Melinda Cannon, Natalie Costa, Savannah Oswald, and Leslie Taylor for their help with the data collection and coding done for this project. USA National Institute of Mental Health Grant.

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Correspondence to Carl F. Weems.

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Carl F. Weems, Randie D. Camp, Erin L. Neill and Brandon G. Scott declare no conflicts of interest.

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All procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (IRB Approval Number “03Mar11”) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Informed consent was obtained from the caregiver and informed assent was obtained from the child.

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This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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This paper is dedicated to memory and incredible life of our co-author Dr. Randie Camp PhD who died unexpectedly in August 2020.

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Weems, C.F., Camp, R.D., Neill, E.L. et al. Developmental Differences in Child and Adolescent Reasoning About Anxiety Sensations. Cogn Ther Res 45, 166–178 (2021).

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  • Developmental differences
  • Child and adolescent reasoning
  • Anxiety sensations