Attention Biases to Threat Link Components of Temperament to Social Withdrawal in Very Young Children

Claire Elizabeth Cole

Advisor: Susanne Denham, PhD, Department of Psychology and Koraly Perez-Edgar, PhD, The Pennsylvania State University

Committee Members: Tim Curby

David J. King Hall, #1024A
November 28, 2011, 10:00 AM to 06:30 AM


Past research has indicated that early temperament may form the basis for the later development of anxiety. In particular, negative reactivity and poor regulatory skills have been shown to place children at risk for the development of anxiety (Chronis-Tuscano et al., 2009; Kagan & Snidman, 1999). However, not all children who show negative reactivity and maladaptive regulatory patterns go on to develop anxiety or extreme social withdrawal. Recent research indicates that attention may serve as a bridge between early temperament and the development of later social difficulties (Perez-Edgar, Bar-Haim et al., 2010). In this study 41 children (Mean=5.6 years) were assessed for attention bias to threat using a dot-probe paradigm. The relations between two components of temperament (negative affect, effortful control), attention bias, and social withdrawal were assessed. Attention bias to threatening faces (but not happy faces) moderated the direct (positive) relation between negative affect and social withdrawal, such that the relation only held for children with attention biases to threat. In contrast, attention bias did not moderate the relation between effortful control and social withdrawal. Rather, there was a direct (negative) relation between effortful control and social withdrawal. These findings indicate that the relations amongst attention bias, temperament, and anxious behavior appears early in life and point to early emerging specificity across the reactivity and regulatory components of temperament.