Perturbed information processing patterns related to threatening or ambiguous information and contexts are thought to play a role in the development of anxiety disorders (MacLeod and Mathews, 2002;Vasey &MacLeod, 2001). In particular, information processing biases in how one attends to and interprets information in the environment are commonly found in both clinically and non-clinically anxious children (Daldeiden and Vasey, 1997). However, it remains unclear the degree to which these biases actively shape, rather than merely reflect, individual differences in anxiety. The long-term goal of this project is to advance our understanding of the underlying cognitive processes associated with anxiety, specifically investigating the causal relations between information processing biases and anxious behaviors.
The aim of the current proposal is to explore the nature of the relations between attention bias to threat and negative interpretive bias and the roles these biases play in increasing stress vulnerability in children ages 8-12. The proposed research study will complete an experiment in which attention bias to threat will be induced in non-anxious children using an attention-training dot-probe paradigm. Children will be assessed both pre- and post attention training on their levels of attention bias and negative interpretive bias. After attention-training, children will also be assessed on vulnerability to stress using a mildly frustrating game. EEC will be collected during the attention bias and interpretive bias tasks and ERP measures of attention allocation during these tasks will be examined. The study will also include an aged match placebo group for comparison that will receive no attention training. We hypothesize that an induction of an attention bias to threat in non-anxious children will modify the way in which they interpret ambiguous information. Specifically, we hypothesize that after an induced attention bias to threat children will be more likely to interpret ambiguous information as negative. Further, we hypothesize that the induction of an attention bias to threat will increase a child's vulnerability to stress in a post-training stress task. The effective treatment and prevention of anxiety disorders in children is of great relevance to public health. In order to understand how to effectively treat or prevent anxiety disorders we must first understand the behavioral and neural processes associated with anxious behaviors in children. The current proposal will increase the knowledge of behavioral and neural processes associated with anxiety in youth. Applicant: The applicant is a doctoral student in developmental psychology. She has a very strong background in studies of cognition dating from her time at the University of Oregon working with Michael Posner. She is currently at the University of Maryland working with Nathan Fox, an outstanding researcher on the interaction between childhood temperament and experience in predicting problem behaviors during development. The applicant, Lauren White, has two papers in press, one with each of these distinguished mentors. Her planned work under this NRSA is to continue to develop her expertise in psycho physiological investigations on children, to continue her studies in cognitive neuroscience and advanced statistics, and to complete the research planned for this application. The theoretical background for the proposed research indicates that she has a strong grasp of temperament and its interactions with cognitive processes, via limbic-prefrontal interactions. She also displays a strong creative streak in being able to put together temperament, cognitive processes, and electrophysiological methods of examining attention biases, along with behavioral measures of attention to threatening stimuli. Her study with normal children will lay the groundwork for studies in children with anxiety disorders. The training program and its relationship to the proposed research are highly appropriate and well structured. Sponsor and Training Environment: The primary sponsor, Dr. Nathan Fox is a well recognized researcher in child development, temperament, and behavioral disorders of children. He is an ideal mentor for this applicant. It is especially apparent that the applicant and Dr. Fox have a very strong working and mentoring relationship and that Dr. Fox is extremely supportive and enthusiastic about Ms. White. The cosponsor is Dr. Daniel Pine, a child psychiatrist who is chief of the NIMH Emotion and Development branch. Dr. Pine has an excellent training record as well as a strong research program in temperament and electro-physiological function. He will integrate the applicant into his lab's mentorship processes, including weekly face-to-face meetings and directed readings and attendance at their lab's in-house research presentations, in which Ms. White will participate. Together, the sponsorship is both very strong and demonstrates a strong commitment to this applicant. The University of Maryland has an outstanding program in child development. Similarly, Dr. Fox's lab has an outstanding record of productivity and high quality work. Dr. Fox has written a very thorough and highly supportive letter of reference and training program description, generating great confidence that this trainee's work will be directed in the best possible way. Research Training Plan: The proposed project tests a group of normally developing children in a paradigm designed to induce an information-processing bias, specifically training the child's attention to threat cues vs. placebo training and examining event-related potentials associated with attention to facial threat cues. Outcomes will be tests for attentional response bias to threat cues, biasing of interpretation of a repeated exposure to the ambiguous vignettes, changes in event related potentials, and response to a stressor paradigm and provide self reports of stress reactions. The study is a very ambitious and methodologically challenging one, and the applicant has demonstrated proficiency at the necessary procedures in the preliminary studies provided in the application. The presentation of the theoretical background is really well done and indicates a significant grasp of several complex areas of research. Similarly, the use of the dot-probe task to train attention bias, rather than to simply assess it, is a highly creative addition to this work. Summary and Recommendation: This is an extremely well prepared application by a highly dedicated and well prepared applicant. The research proposal is highly creative, very thorough and well thought through. It will provide a strong background in this area of research for the trainee as well as an excellent preparation for a postdoctoral transition after this NRSA is completed. The application gives considerable confidence that the trainee will be productive and that the research will produce interesting results. Protection of Human Subjects from Research Risks: No concerns. Protection of Human Subjects and Exemptions Claimed: No concerns. No exemptions claimed. Inclusion of Women Plan: The application indicates that enrollment will include approximately half girls and half boys. Inclusion of Minorities Plan: The plan describes recruitment of Blacks, Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in relation to their proportions in the community. Inclusion of Children Plan: Children are the focus of the research. Data and Safety Monitoring Plan: Not Applicable

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F11-K (20))
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Churchill, James D
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University of Maryland College Park
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College Park
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Suway, J G; White, L K; Vanderwert, R E et al. (2013) Modification of threat-processing in non-anxious individuals: a preliminary behavioral and ERP study. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry 44:285-92
White, Lauren K; McDermott, Jennifer Martin; Degnan, Kathryn A et al. (2011) Behavioral inhibition and anxiety: the moderating roles of inhibitory control and attention shifting. J Abnorm Child Psychol 39:735-47
White, Lauren K; Suway, Jenna G; Pine, Daniel S et al. (2011) Cascading effects: the influence of attention bias to threat on the interpretation of ambiguous information. Behav Res Ther 49:244-51