Attention Bias to Threat in Maltreated Children: Implications for Vulnerability to Stress-Related Psychopathology

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
American Journal of Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 12.3). 03/2005; 162(2):291-6. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.2.291
Source: PubMed


Previous research in adults implicates attention bias in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To study attention bias in children, the authors used picture-based versions of the visual-probe attention bias task previously used with adults. They tested the hypothesis that attention bias to threatening facial photographs is associated with maltreatment and PTSD.
A visual-probe task that manipulated threat levels was used to test 34 children who had been maltreated and 21 children who had not been maltreated. The visual-probe task involved showing photographs of actors with faces depicting neutral, angry/threatening, or happy expressions for 500 msec each.
Attention bias away from threat was associated with severity of physical abuse and diagnosis of PTSD. This association reflected the tendency for high levels of abuse or PTSD to predict attention avoidance of threatening faces.
Previous studies examined the engagement of specific brain regions associated with attention orientation to angry/threatening faces. The current study used similar methods to document associations between attention bias and maltreatment in children. This sets the stage for studies examining relationships in children among perturbed brain function, psychopathology, attention bias, and maltreatment.

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    • "Also, individuals' past experiences and exposure to their caregivers' facial expressions might not only influence how these individuals form their sense of self, but also the saliency of these expressions later on. For example, it has been demonstrated that maltreated children directed their attention away from angry faces, as compared to controls, and interestingly, this bias to avoid threatening stimuli was dependent on the severity of the physical abuse they suffered from (Pine et al., 2005). Also, as suggested above, future studies focusing on genetic markers and their interaction with self-variables in association with biased face processing , may shed more light on other possible explanations emanated from the nurture vs. nature problem (i.e., consequences vs. predispositions). "
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