Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Maternal psychological control (PC) and youth attention to threat are implicated in the etiology and maintenance of youth anxiety and its disorders. High maternal PC conveys to youth that the world is potentially dangerous and that youth are not capable of meeting the challenges the world presents. Consequently, youth may become hypervigilant to cues of threat or danger in their environments and struggle to adaptively shift or regulate their attention (i.e., they may display poor attentional control). Based on prior empirical findings and theoretical models of anxiety, we hypothesize that the relation between maternal PC and youth anxiety severity will be accounted for at least in part by youth attention to threat and youth attentional control. To test these hypotheses, we examined the associations between maternal PC, youth attention to threat, youth attentional control, and youth anxiety severity in 202 clinic-referred, anxious youths. We further evaluated a conceptual model wherein youth attention to threat and youth attentional control account for the relation between maternal PC and youth anxiety severity. Youths (54% male) ranged in age from 6 to 18 years old (M = 10.09, SD = 2.61), and approximately 75% of the sample identified as Hispanic/Latino.
Maternal PC was significantly and positively associated with youth anxiety severity. Youth attentional control was significantly and negatively associated with maternal PC and youth anxiety severity. Youth attention to threat was not significantly associated with any other measured variable. In support of our hypothesis, the indirect association between maternal PC and youth anxiety severity via youth attentional control was statistically significant, indicating the association between maternal PC and youth anxiety severity was partially accounted for by youth attentional control.
Findings from this study provide insight into one variable that explains the well-documented association between high levels of maternal PC and anxiety in youth: poor attentional control. In contrast, youth attention to threatening stimuli was not significantly associated with maternal PC or youth anxiety severity. Although a longitudinal design will be needed to evaluate directionality of effects, the present findings are consistent with a conceptual model wherein high maternal PC hinders the development of youths’ ability to adaptively regulate their attention, which in turn leads to higher levels of anxiety. The present findings also suggest that youth attentional control may be a promising target for youth anxiety intervention and prevention efforts.
Deepika Bose– Graduate Student, Florida International University, Miami, Florida
Daniella Vaclavik– Graduate Student, Florida International University
Victor Buitron– Graduate Student, Florida International University, Sunrise, Florida
Yasmin Rey– Florida International University
Jeremy Pettit– Professor and ABCT Ambassador, Florida International University, Miami, Florida