Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Selective attention to threat is a common cognitive bias in child anxiety wherein anxious children demonstrate greater attentional resources towards threatening aspects of both threatening and ambiguous situations (Daleiden & Vasey, 1997) experiencing more negative thoughts and underestimates of their coping abilities than non-anxious youth (Bögels & Zigterman, 2000). One avenue through which anxious children might develop this cognitive bias is parenting styles wherein threat is overestimated and child coping abilities are underestimated (Barrett, Rapee, et al., 1996; Shortt, Barrett, Dadds & Fox, 2001).
The Cognitive and Avoidance Response Biases Questionnaire – parent and child versions (CARB-Q-P/C; Micco & Ehrenreich, 2008) presents children and parents with descriptions of 6 situations children have likely encountered; 3 salient to the child’s specific fears and 3 non-salient to the child’s own fears. Both child and parent are presented the situations, and asked to rate their respective threat perception of the situation, the child’s ability to cope with the situation, and what the parent’s response would be to the situation. It was predicted that children higher in anxiety and anxiety sensitivity would endorse more cognitive biases when presented with salient and non-salient situations.
As part of a larger study, child and parent dyads from schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, completed questionnaires and lab-based behavioural activities. Children completed the RCADS to assess child anxiety and the CASI to assess child AS. The sample included 20 dyads; child age ranged from 9 to 12 years old (M = 10.2, SD = 1.15); 45% (n = 9) of children were male, 55% (n = 11) female.
Correlational analyses showed child anxiety was more strongly related to salient (r = .39) than non-salient threat perceptions (r = .21); this same pattern was observed with child AS (r = .51; r = .14, respectively). Although children’s predictions of parental responses were correlated with child anxiety and AS at only a small magnitude for the salient situations (r = .11, r = .18, respectively), parental predictions of response were correlated more strongly with both child anxiety (r = .35) and child AS (r = .29). Neither child nor parent expectations of parental response were meaningfully correlated with child anxiety or AS. Similarly, neither child nor parental expectations of coping were meaningfully correlated with child anxiety or AS in the salient or non-salient situations.
Present findings replicate the initial work of Micco & Ehrenreich (2008) in indicating that child anxiety is positively correlated with child perceptions of threat, and more so in child-salient situations. Findings extend upon previous work by suggesting that perceptions of threat are also related to child AS, again particularly in child-salient situations. Interestingly, these findings also indicate that parents’ expected responses to child-salient situations are correlated with not only the child’s self-reported anxiety, but also their self-reported AS, suggesting that not only does child AS play a role in children’s perceptions of threat, but that parents are also attuned to these biases.