Attention and interpretation biases for threat stimuli were assessed in 19 anxious (ANX) children before and after cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and compared with responses from 19 non-anxious (NA) control children collected over the same period. Attentional bias was assessed using a picture version of the visual probe task with threat, neutral and pleasant pictures. Threat interpretation bias was assessed using both a homographs task in which children used homograph words in a sentence and their neutral or threatening meaning was assessed, and a stories task in which children rated their negative emotion, danger judgments, and influencing ability in ambiguous situations. ANX children showed attention biases towards threat on the visual probe task and threat interpretation biases on the stories task but not the homographs task at pre-treatment in comparison with NA children. Following treatment, ANX children's threat interpretation biases as assessed on the stories task reduced significantly to within levels comparable to NA children. However, ANX children continued to show larger attentional biases towards threat than pleasant pictures on the visual probe task at post-treatment, whereas NA children did not show attentional biases. Moreover, a residual threat interpretation style on the stories task at post-treatment was associated with higher anxiety symptoms in both ANX and NA children.
- Childhood anxiety disorders
- Cognitive behavioural treatment
- Cognitive biases