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Characterizing Naturalistic Sustained Attention in Behaviorally Inhibited Children: Risk Factors for Internalizing Symptoms

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Level 3, Room 312

Integrative Statement

Temperamental behavioral inhibition (BI) is characterized by reticence to novel stimuli, and is a risk factor for internalizing problems (Chronis-Tuscano et al., 2009). However, not all BI children develop internalizing problems. Low levels of sustained attention or increased vigilance may increase internalizing risk in BI children (Perez-Edgar et al., 2010). Mobile eye-tracking is a novel tool that allows for the assessment of fine-grained visual attention patterns in naturalistic scenes, providing a more ecologically valid measure of sustained attention.
In an ongoing sample enriched for BI (N-to-Date: 76, Mage=6.05 years, 21 BI), children wore a mobile eye-tracker while completing the Stranger Working episode of the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery, designed to elicit social fear (Goldsmith et al., 1994). In this episode, a child is seated in a room with a Hungry Hungry Hippos toy, but without the marbles needed to play. The familiar experimenter departs, and a female stranger enters the room to complete some paperwork with the marbles in hand. The female stranger “works” for 2 minutes, and then departs, completing the episode.
Naturalistic sustained attention during the Stranger Working task was measured by coding the number of gaze shifts between fixations to situation-relevant areas of interest (toy, marbles, stranger body, stranger head, and stranger’s reflection in a mirror). Increased shifts were conceptualized as lower sustained attention. Parents reported children’s BI using the Behavioral Inhibition Questionnaire (BIQ; Bishop et al., 2003) and internalizing symptoms using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000)
To date, we have coded eye-tracking recordings from 25 participants (Mage=6.15 years, 10 BI). On average, children provided usable eye-tracking fixation data for 68.1% of the episode (SD=26.6). Three participants were excluded for being 2 standard deviations below the mean in usable fixations. This initial analysis included eye-tracking recordings from 22 participants (Mage=6.11 years, 9 BI).
We used a Poisson regression to examine the interaction between BIQ score and levels of sustained attention in predicting total number of internalizing symptoms. All measures were entered as continuous variables. There was a significant main effect of BI in positively predicting internalizing symptoms, b=0.02, p<.001. Additionally, there was a significant main effect of sustained attention in predicting BI, b=-0.01, p=.05. There was also a significant interaction between BI and sustained attention in predicting internalizing symptoms, b<0.001, p=.01 (Figure 1). Using a Johnson-Neyman plot to examine regions of significance, we found that this interaction was only significant for children with lower levels of sustained attention, specifically for those making more than ~13 gaze shifts during the episode (Figure 2).
Taken together, these results suggest that sustained attention moderates the relation between BI and internalizing symptoms, and specifically low levels of sustained attention may exacerbate risk of internalizing problems in children with higher levels of BI. Continued coding and analyses will present further opportunities to examine BI-related individual differences in sustained attention. Overall, these findings underscore the importance of considering naturalistic measures of threat-related attention for studying the development of internalizing problems in at-risk children.


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