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Affect-biased Attention is Linked to Individual Differences in Social Withdrawal: A Multimodal Eye-tracking Investigation

Sat, March 23, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Level 3, Room 313

Integrative Statement

Affect-biased attention supports individual differences in socioemotional behavior (Morales, Fu, Pérez-Edgar, 2016). Cross-sectional studies indicate that threat-related attention bias (AB) is associated with pediatric anxiety and anxiety risk (Dudeney, Sharpe, & Hunt, 2015). Longitudinal evidence supports the premise that threat-related AB conveys vulnerability for developing social withdrawal (SW) and anxiety in at-risk children (Pérez-Edgar et al., 2010; White et al., 2017). Despite our interest in real-life socioemotional functioning, most paradigms present preselected, static social stimuli. Thus, we do not know how AB in vivo may be associated with socioemotional behavior.

The present study implements both a screen-based and a mobile eye-tracking paradigm to investigate whether SW is related to both stationary and ambulatory AB toward affective social stimuli. Findings can facilitate the identification of more ecologically-valid, comprehensive, and fine-grained AB patterns associated with anxiety vulnerability before the onset of full-blown symptoms.

Participants were 5- to 7-year-olds drawn from an ongoing study that oversamples for children characterized with the temperament type behavioral inhibition (27.6%-to-date based on parent reports). Fifty-seven participants (25 males; Mage=6.01; SD=0.62) provided usable data on a dot-probe eye-tracking task (Morales, Pérez-Edgar, & Buss, 2014). Each of the 100 trials (1800ms ITIs) presented face pairs for 500ms (Angry-Neutral, Happy-Neutral, or Neutral-Neutral), followed by an asterisk for 2500ms in the location of one of the preceding faces. Children also completed a Stranger Approach Episode (Lab-TAB; Buss & Goldsmith, 2000) while wearing a head-mounted eye-tracker. A male Stranger walked towards the child, sat down and initiated a conversation, and left. Coding has been completed for 20 participants-to-date (12 males; Mage=6.07; SD=0.76). Mothers reported children’s SW using the MacArthur Health Behavior Questionnaire (Armstrong et al., 2003).

First, we examined dwell time for screen-presented faces. A linear mixed-effects model revealed a significant SW-by-Face-Type interaction, F(1,3147)=8.68, p<.01 (Figure 1). That is, greater SW was associated with longer dwell time on neutral faces, B=20.32, t(52)=2.23, p=.03. The effect of SW on dwell time was not significant for emotional (angry and happy) faces, p=.62.

Next, we examined dwell time on naturalistic stimuli during each vocalization event type: Stranger Vocalization (SV), Child Vocalization (CV), and No Vocalization (NV) (Figure 2.1). Stranger bias scores were calculated by subtracting the proportion of time spent looking at the child or the room from the proportion of time spent looking at the Stranger. Preliminary findings (Figure 2.2) indicated a significant main effect of Event Type on Stranger bias, F(2,34)=7.01, p<.01, such that children showed greater Stranger bias during SV than CV, B= 30.14, t(34)= 3.09, p<.01, and NV, B= 28.42, t(34)= 2.91, p=.01. The Stranger bias did not differ during CV versus NV, p=.86. The effect of SW group (median-split) was also significant, F(1, 15)=6.02, p=.03. There was no significant Event-Type-by-SW interaction, p=.36.

Together, findings from the screen-based and naturalistic paradigms tentatively suggest that high SW in young children is associated with greater AB toward novel, potentially ambiguous social stimuli. Future analyses will continue exploring whether children at risk for anxiety show stationary and ambulatory AB compared to low risk children.

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