Background: A bias to selectively direct attention to threat stimuli is a cognitive characteristic of anxiety disorders. Recent studies indicate that individual differences in pre-treatment threat attention bias predict treatment outcomes from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in anxious individuals. However, there have been inconsistent findings regarding whether attention bias towards threat predicts better or poorer treatment outcome. Method: This longitudinal study examined treatment outcomes in 35 clinically-anxious children following a 10-week, group-based CBT program, as a function of whether children showed a pre-treatment attention bias towards or away from threat stimuli. The effect of CBT on attention bias was also assessed. Results: Both groups showed significant improvement after receiving CBT. However, anxious children with a pre-treatment attention bias towards threat showed greater reductions not only in anxiety symptom severity, but also in the likelihood of meeting diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders at post-treatment assessment, in comparison with anxious children who showed a pre-treatment attention bias away from threat. Children who had a pre-treatment bias away from threat showed a reduction in this bias over the course of CBT. Conclusions: Findings suggest that pre-existing differences in the direction of attention towards versus away from threat could have important implications for the treatment of anxious children.
- Attention bias
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy