Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Introduction: Research has consistently identified maternal anxiety (Beidel & Turner, 1997) and child threat interpretation biases (Vassilopoulousas et al. 2009) as risk factors for childhood anxiety. However, no studies to date have examined interactive effects of maternal anxiety and child interpretation biases on anxious children’s distress levels in the context of a challenging task. This work may provide new insight into the covariation between child and maternal vulnerabilities that place anxious children at increased risk for excessive distress during stressful situations.
Method: A diverse sample of 63 children with anxiety disorders (ages 8-12, Mage = 9.87 years, SD = 1.28; 62% female) and their mothers (Mage = 39.03 years, SD = 7.85) completed a battery of tests, including the Children’s Negative Cognitive Errors Questionnaire (CNCEQ; Leitenberg et al., 1986), Depression and Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS; Lovibond, & Lovibond, 1995), and the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS; Wolpe, 1958). Children also completed a 5-minute, videotaped speech about their family and were told the speech would be rated on overall quality.
Results: An ANOVA controlling for children’s anxiety showed a significant effect of maternal anxiety on children’s distress change scores (i.e., from pre-to-post speech) , F (1,16) = 2.11, p = .03). Hayes’ (2012) PROCESS modeling was used to examine the moderating effect of children’s interpretation biases on this relationship. While the overall model trended toward significance, F (3, 58) = 2.35, p = .08, the interaction was significant (β = .01, p = .02) and explained 8.23% of the total variance. Examination of the simple slopes revealed that the association between maternal anxiety and children’s change in distress ratings (from pre-to-post speech) was significant only among children with high (vs. low) interpretation biases, β = .23, t = 2.28, p = .03, 95% CI = .03, .43.
Discussion: Findings suggest that mother’s anxiety was significantly related to changes in children’s distress ratings, such that children of mothers with higher levels of anxiety evidenced a smaller decrease in distress from pre-to-post speech. Additionally, child interpretation biases moderated this relationship; for children with higher levels of interpretation biases, maternal anxiety was related to little or no changes in child speech-related distress. Findings underscore the role of children’s interpretation biases and maternal anxiety on children’s distress reactions to anxiety-provoking situations, and inform the future use of cognitive biases modification interventions for children of mothers with high anxiety.