Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Attentional control (AC) refers to the ability to deliberately and strategically focus, sustain, and shift attention. According to theoretical models of AC and anxiety, individuals with high AC are able to strategically focus, sustain, and shift their attention to regulate emotional experiences (i.e., up-regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative emotions). When encountering threatening or negative stimuli, individuals with low AC may be unable to shift attention away from such stimuli, which in turn leads to elaborated processing of threatening material and may contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety and its disorders.
Findings on the association between AC and anxiety in youth are mixed and the strength of the association across studies ranges from small and not statistically significant to large and statistically significant. As a result of these mixed findings and methodological and sampling differences across studies, it is challenging to draw conclusions regarding the association between AC and anxiety. The present empirical review aims to organize, synthesize, and clarify the empirical literature by conducting the first meta-analysis on the association between AC and anxiety in youth. Based on theory, we hypothesized an overall significant and negative association between AC and anxiety, indicating that lower levels of AC would be associated with higher levels of anxiety.
Following extensive reviews of the literature, a total of 30 studies (total participant N = 7832; ages 4 to 18) were identified as meeting inclusionary criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. The association between AC and anxiety using the data from all 30 studies was statistically significant, negative, and large. Subgroup analyses indicated a non-significant and small association for studies that used performance-based task measures of AC, but a significant and large association for studies that used rating scale measures of AC. Age significantly moderated the strength of the association between AC and anxiety, with a stronger association found in adolescents relative to children.
In summary, findings of this meta-analytic review provide support for the theorized association between low levels of AC and higher levels of anxiety in children and adolescents, with the association being stronger in adolescents than children and when rating scales rather than performance based tasks are used to measure AC. Theoretical implications will be discussed.
Daniella Vaclavik– Graduate Student, Florida International University, Miami, Florida
Deepika Bose– Graduate Student, Florida International University, Miami, Florida
Wendy Silverman– Alfred A. Messer Professor of Child Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology and Director, Yale University and Child Study Center Program for Anxiety Disorders, USA, New Haven, Connecticut
Jeremy Pettit– Professor and ABCT Ambassador, Florida International University, Miami, Florida
Alfred A. Messer Professor of Child Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology and Director
Yale University and Child Study Center Program for Anxiety Disorders, USA
New Haven, Connecticut