Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety

PS12- #B59 - Attentional Control and Anxiety in Children: A Comparison Between Self-Report and Performance-Based Measures

Saturday, Nov 18
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Child Anxiety | Attention | Psychometrics

Children with anxiety disorders often do not have significant symptom reduction following treatment. Some estimates are as high as 40% (James et al., 2013). Therefore, it is critical to better understand the mechanisms underlying anxiety disorders in children to improve treatment outcomes. Several studies have identified attentional control deficits as a predictor and risk factor for the development of anxiety symptoms (e.g., Kertz et al., 2015). However, most studies have relied on self/parent report of attention control to examine the relationship between attentional control and anxiety in children. A small number of studies using performance-based measures of attentional control also found a small association between attentional control and anxiety (e.g., Muris et al., 2008). However, only one performance-based measure has been used in the literature. Thus, additional investigation of the relationship between self/parent report and performance based measures of attentional control in children is warranted. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to test the convergent validity of self- and parent reports and a performance-based measure of attentional control and their associations with anxiety.


Data collection is currently ongoing. Children (N = 24) aged 8-12 years (M = 9.67, SD = 1.31) were recruited from the rural Midwest to participate in a larger study with their biological mother. The sample was 52% male and majority non-Hispanic white (65.2%). Children completed the Attentional Control Scale – Child version (ACS-C) and the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC 2) Total score. Their mother completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) shift, inhibition, and global executive composite (GEC) scales. Children also completed an internal shift task (IST), a computer-based task that measures internal ability to switch attention within working memory. Participants were instructed to maintain counts of groups of neutral words (animals vs. objects). Switch cost scores were calculated by subtracting average reaction time of switch trials from non-switch trials. 


Preliminary convergent validity analyses indicated a significant correlation between the IST and the ACS-C shifting subscale, r(22) = .53, p = .01. The ACS-C Total and Focusing subscale and the BRIEF Inhibit, Shift, and GEC scales did not correlate with the IST, ps >.05. MASC 2 Total scores significantly correlated with ACS-C Total scores, r(20) = .46, p = .04. The ACS-C Total and the ACS-C Focusing subscale significantly correlated with the BRIEF Shift subscale, r(19) = .56, p = .01, r(21) = .45, p = .04, respectively. The ACS-C Shifting and Focusing subscale, the BRIEF Inhibit, Shift, and GEC scales, and IST did not correlate with anxiety, ps >.05. 


Although preliminary, the results overall suggest that self-report, parent-report, and a performance based task of attentional control do not have adequate construct validity. Further, only a self-report measure of attentional control significantly correlated with anxiety symptoms. The lack of adequate measurement of attention control deficits in children represents a significant gap in the literature. Implications, limitation, and future directions will be discussed. 

Moselle Campbell

Graduate Student
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, Illinois

Kimberly Stevens

Graduate Student
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, Illinois

Taylor Laughlin

Southern Illinois University

Jonah Toenneis

Southern Illinois University

Sarah J. Kertz

Assistant Professor
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Carbondale, Illinois