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

ABSTRACT 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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Available from: Brendan Patrick Bradley, Sep 29, 2015
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    • "Laboratory research suggests that individuals with high levels of trait anxiety are not only more likely to show elevated levels of stress in their daily lives but also to show differential reactivity following an acute stressor (Hubert and de Jong-Meyer 1992; van Eck et al. 1996). As a result, we hypothesize that highly anxious children may also exhibit more maladaptive cognitive and behavioral responses to stressful stimuli in their communities, including reduced cognitive capacity, avoidance of potentially threatening stimuli, withdrawal, and reduced coping (Evans 2003; Pine et al. 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: Research has shown robust relationships between community violence and psychopathology, yet relatively little is known about the ways in which community violence may affect cognitive performance and attention. The present study estimates the effects of police-reported community violence on 359 urban children's performance on a computerized neuropsychological task using a quasi-experimental fixed-effects design. Living in close proximity to a recent violent crime predicted faster but marginally less accurate task performance for the full sample, evolutionarily adaptive patterns of "vigilant" attention (i.e., less attention toward positive stimuli, more attention toward negative stimuli) for children reporting low trait anxiety, and potentially maladaptive patterns of "avoidant" attention for highly anxious children. These results suggest that community violence can directly affect children's cognitive performance while also having different (and potentially orthogonal) impacts on attention deployment depending on children's levels of biobehavioral risk. Implications for mental health and sociological research are discussed. © American Sociological Association 2015.
    Journal of Health and Social Behavior 02/2015; 56(1). DOI:10.1177/0022146514567576 · 2.72 Impact Factor
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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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    ABSTRACT: The aim of the proposed theoretical model is to illuminate personal and interpersonal resilience by drawing from the field of emotional face perception. We suggest that perception/recognition of emotional facial expressions serves as a central link between subjective, self-related processes and the social context. Emotional face perception constitutes a salient social cue underlying interpersonal communication and behavior. Because problems in communication and interpersonal behavior underlie most, if not all, forms of psychopathology, it follows that perception/recognition of emotional facial expressions impacts psychopathology. The ability to accurately interpret one's facial expression is crucial in subsequently deciding on an appropriate course of action. However, perception in general, and of emotional facial expressions in particular, is highly influenced by individuals' personality and the self-concept. Herein we briefly outline well-established theories of personal and interpersonal resilience and link them to the neuro-cognitive basis of face perception. We then describe the findings of our ongoing program of research linking two well-established resilience factors, general self-efficacy (GSE) and perceived social support (PSS), with face perception. We conclude by pointing out avenues for future research focusing on possible genetic markers and patterns of brain connectivity associated with the proposed model. Implications of our integrative model to psychotherapy are discussed.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 08/2014; 8:602. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00602 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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    • "The dependent variable of interest was the time it took for a child to make a response (in ms), with positive scores indicating a bias towards the target word and negative scores reflecting a bias away from the target word (see Dalgleish et al., 2001, for full details of the dot probe scoring algorithm). In line with previous child dot probe studies responses less than 100 ms or greater than 3 s were omitted as were responses more than two standard deviations above the participant's mean latency (Dalgleish et al., 2001; Pine et al., 2005). The error rate was comparable across the three groups (average percent of errors = 6.42, "
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    ABSTRACT: Attention bias is common in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but is less studied in children. Children (n = 22) who experienced a potentially distressing procedure in an outpatient clinic (removal of K-wires from orthopaedic fractures) and a group of medically unwell children (illness group; n = 27) were compared with healthy controls (n = 32). Children's baseline level of PTS symptoms were indexed prior to the medical procedure, and again at 1-week follow-up. Immediately after the K-wire removal, children completed a dot probe task using two categories of target words (medical threatening and emotionally threatening). While K-wire children showed an overall bias away from negative words relative to healthy controls, the illness group did not significantly differ from healthy controls. Attention bias in K-wire and illness groups was unrelated to later PTS symptoms.
    Australian Psychologist 08/2014; 49(4). DOI:10.1111/ap.12063 · 0.61 Impact Factor
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