Vigilance and Avoidance of Threat in the Eye Movements of Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder
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The vigilance-avoidance attention pattern is found in anxious adults, who initially gaze more at threatening pictures than nonanxious adults (vigilance), but subsequently gaze less at them than nonanxious adults (avoidance). The present research, using eye tracking methodology, tested whether anxious children show the same pattern. Children with separation anxiety disorder or no mental disorder viewed pairs of pictures, while the direction of their gaze was tracked. Each picture pair showed one picture of a woman separating from a child, the other picture of a woman reuniting with a child. The results supported the vigilance-avoidance model in children. Although the two groups’ gaze direction did not differ during the first second of viewing, anxious children gazed significantly more at separating (threatening) pictures than nonanxious children after a period of 1 s. But after 3 s the pattern reversed: anxious children gazed significantly less at the separating pictures than nonanxious children.
KeywordsAttentional bias Eye movement Separation anxiety disorder Vigilance-avoidance model
We thank S. Lloyd Williams for his helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.
This study was supported by grant project PP001-68701; 105311-116517/1) awarded to Silvia Schneider by the Swiss National Science Foundation. We appreciate the participants in this study, as well as the research assistants and graduate students on the project at Universität Basel for their assistance in data collection and management.
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