Attention bias in the developmental unfolding of post-traumatic stress symptoms in young children at risk

Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan, Damion Grasso, Yair Bar-Haim, Joel Voss, Kimberly J. McCarthy, Daniel S. Pine, Lauren S. Wakschlag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Threat-related attention bias relates to anxiety and posttraumatic stress symptoms in adults and adolescents, but few longitudinal studies examine such associations in young children. This study examines prospective relations among attention bias, trauma exposure, and anxiety and trauma symptoms in a sample previously reported to manifest cross-sectional associations between attention bias and observed anxiety at preschool age. Methods: Young children [mean (MN) = 5.0, ±0.7 years, n = 208] from a community-based sample completed the dot-probe task to assess their attention biases in response to angry faces. At baseline (T1) and at follow-up approximately 9 months later (T2), anxiety and trauma exposure (i.e. violent and noninterpersonal events) and symptoms were assessed by maternal report. Results: Neither attention bias nor baseline or recent trauma exposure predicted later anxiety. In contrast, attention bias toward threat and recent trauma exposure significantly predicted later trauma symptoms. There was evidence of symptom specificity such that attention bias toward threat significantly predicted hyperarousal and dissociation, but not avoidance or re-experiencing symptoms. Finally, moderation analyses indicated that the relationship between attention bias and trauma symptoms may differ according to children's experiences of probable abuse. Conclusions: Attention profiles and trauma exposure may increase the risk that young children will develop trauma symptoms. Individual differences in these attentional patterns and children's exposure history may impact outcomes among high-risk children with potential implications for intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1083-1091
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • Attention bias
  • anxiety
  • posttraumatic stress
  • stress
  • trauma
  • violence

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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