Attention bias to emotional information in children as a function of maternal emotional disorders and maternal attention biases

Allison M. Waters*, Kylee Forrest, Rosie Mae Peters, Brendan P. Bradley, Karin Mogg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives Children of parents with emotional disorders have an increased risk for developing anxiety and depressive disorders. Yet the mechanisms that contribute to this increased risk are poorly understood. The present study aimed to examine attention biases in children as a function of maternal lifetime emotional disorders and maternal attention biases.

Methods There were 134 participants, including 38 high-risk children, and their mothers who had lifetime emotional disorders; and 29 low-risk children, and their mothers without lifetime emotional disorders. Mothers and children completed a visual probe task with emotional face pairs presented for 500 ms.

Results Attention bias in children did not significantly differ solely as a function of whether or not their mothers had lifetime emotional disorders. However, attention bias in high-risk children was significantly related to their mothers' attention bias. Specifically, children of mothers with lifetime emotional disorders showed a greater negative attention bias if their mothers had a greater tendency to direct attention away from positive information.

Limitations This study was cross-sectional in nature, and therefore unable to assess long-term predictive effects. Also, just one exposure duration of 500 ms was utilised.

Conclusion Attention bias for negative information is greater in offspring of mothers who have lifetime emotional disorders and a reduced positive bias, which could be a risk marker for the development of emotional disorders in children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-163
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention biases
  • Children
  • Lifetime emotional disorders
  • Mothers


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