Effects of state and trait anxiety on selective attention to threatening stimuli in a non-clinical sample of school children


attentional bias
trait anxiety
state anxiety
non-clinical sample

How to Cite

Ortega Marín, J., Jiménez Solanilla, K., & Acosta Barreto, R. (2015). Effects of state and trait anxiety on selective attention to threatening stimuli in a non-clinical sample of school children. International Journal of Psychological Research, 8(1), 75–90. https://doi.org/10.21500/20112084.646


Attentional biases, consisting of a preferential processing of threatening stimuli, have been found in anxious adults as predicted by several cognitive models. However, studies with non-clinical samples of children have provided mixed results. Therefore, the aim of this research was to determine the effects of state and trait anxiety on the selective attention towards threatening stimuli in a non-clinical sample of school children (age: 8 to 13, n = 110) using the dot-probe task. This study did not reveal an effect of trait anxiety on selective attention towards threatening stimuli. However, a significant difference was found between participants with low state anxiety and high state anxiety. Nevertheless, the effect size was small. Specifically, participants with low state anxiety showed a bias towards threatening stimuli. Overall, the findings of this research with a non-clinical sample of school children suggest that attentional biases towards threatening information, which has been repeatedly found in anxious adults, are not necessarily inherent to non-clinical anxiety in children and on the other hand, the relationship between attentional biases and anxiety in this population might be moderated by other cognitive processes.


Amir, N., Mcnally, R.J., Riemann, B.C., Burns, J., Lorenz, M., Mullen, J.T. (1996) Suppression of the emotional Stroop effect by increased anxiety in patients with social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34(11-12), 945-948.

Appelhans, B.M., & Luecken, L.J. (2006) Heart rate variability as an index of regulated emotional responding. Review of General Psychology, 10(3), 229-240.

Bar-Haim, Y. (2010) Research review: attention bias modification (ABM): a novel treatment for anxiety disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 859-870.

Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and non-anxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 1−24.

Berggren, N., Koster, E., & Derakshan, N. (2012). The effect of cognitive load in emotional attention and trait anxiety: An eye movement study. Journal of cognitive psychology, 24(1), 79-91.

Berntson, G.G. & Cacioppo, J.T. (2004) Heart rate variability: Stress and psychiatric conditions. In M. Malik & A.J. Camm (Eds.) Dynamic Electrocardiography. New York: Blackwell Publising, Inc./Futura Division.

Bishop, S. J. (2007) Neurocognitive mechanisms of anxiety: an integrative account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 307–316.

Bishop, S. J. (2008) Neural mechanisms underlying selective attention to threat. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1129, 141–152.

Bishop, S. J. (2009) Trait anxiety and impoverished prefrontal control of attention. Nature Neuroscience, 12, 92-98.

Bishop, S. J., Duncan, J., & Lawrence, A. D. (2004). State anxiety modulation of the amygdala response to unattended threat-related stimuli. Journal of Neuroscience, 24, 10364–10368.

Boonnithi, S., & Phongsuphap, S. (2011) Comparison of heart rate variability measures for mental stress detection. Computing in Cardiology, 38, 85-88.

Bradley, B.P., Mogg, K., Millar, N., Bonham-Carter, C., Fergusson, E., Jenkins, J., Parr, M. (1997) Attentional biases for emotional faces. Cognition and Emotion, 11(1), 25-42.

Bredy, T.W., Sun, Y., Kobor, M.S. (2010) How the epigenome contributes to the development of psychiatric disorders. Developmental Psychobiology, 52(4), 331-342.

Brenner, E. (2000) Mood induction in children: Methodological issues and clinical implications. Review of General Psychology, 4(3), 264-283.

Carretié, L., Mercado, F., Hinojosa, J.A., Martín-Loeches, M., & Sotillo, M. (2004) Valence-related vigilance biases in anxiety studied through event-related potentials. Journal of Affective Disorders, 78, 119-130.


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH Effects of state and trait anxiety in School Children

Ortega, Jiménez and Acos ta (2014)

int.j.psychol.res. 8 (1) PP. 75 - 90

Castillo, A., & Paternina, A. (2006) Redes atencionales y sistema visual selectivo. Universitas Psychologica, 5(2), 305-325.

Castrillón, D., & Borrero, P. (2005) Validación del inventario de ansiedad estado-rasgo (STAIC) en niños escolarizados entre los 8 y 15 años. Acta Colombiana de Psicología, 13, 79-90.

Choi, J., & Gutierrez-Osuna, R. (2009) Using heart rate monitors to detect mental stress. IEEE computer society, 219-223.

Cisler, J.M., & Koster, E. H. W. (2010). Mechanisms of attentional biases towards threat in anxiety disorders: an integrative review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 20-216.

Cisler, J.M., Bacon, A.K., & Williams, N.L. (2007) Phenomenological characteristics of attentional biases towards threat: a critical review. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 33, 221–234.

Clark, D.A. & Beck, A.T. Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders: Science and Practice. New York: The Guilford Press.

Colegio Colombiano de Psicólogos (2009) Deontologìa y bioética del ejericio de la psicología en Colombia. Bogotá.

Constans, J.I., McCloskey, M.S., Vasterling, J.J., Brailey, K., & Mathews, A. (2004) Suppression of attentional bias in PTSD, 113(2), 315-323.

Curley, J.P., Jensen, C.L., Mashoodh, R., & Champagne, F.A. (2011) Social influences on neurobiology and behavior: Epigenetic effects during development. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(3), 352-371.

Dalgleish, T., Moradi, A.R., Taghavi, M.R., Neshat-Doost, H.T., & Yule, W. (2001) An experimental investigation of hypervigilance for threat in children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine, 31, 541-547.

Dalgleish, T., Taghavi, R., Neshat-Doost, H., Moradi, A., Canterbury, R., Yule, W. (2003) Patterns of processing bias for emotional information across clinical disorders: A comparison of attention, memory, and prospective cognition in children and adolescents with depression, generalized anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32(1), 10-21.

Dennis, T.A., Chen, C., & McCandliss, B.D. (2008) Threat-related attentional biases: An analysis of three attention systems. Depression and Anxiety, 25, 1-10.

Derryberry, D., & Reed, M.A. (2002) Anxiety-related attentional biases and their regulation by attentional control. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(2), 225-236.

Dresler, T., Mériau, K., Heekeren, H., & van der Meer, E. (2009) Emotional Stroop task: effect of word arousal and subject anxiety on emotional interference. Psychological Research, 73, 364-371.

Eldar, S., Apter, A., Lotan, D., Perez-Edgar, K., Naim, R., Fox, N.A., Pine, D.S., & Bar-Haim, Y. (2012) Attention bias modification treatment for pediatric anxiety disorders: A randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 213-220.

Eldar, S., Ricon, T., & Bar-Haim, Y. (2008) Plasticity in attention: implications for stress response in children. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 450-461.

Eschenbeck, H., Kohlmann, C.H., Heim-Dreger, U., Koller, D., & Leser, M. (2004) Processing bias and anxiety in primary school children: a modified emotional Stroop colour-naming task using pictorial facial expressions. Psychology Science, 46, 451-465.

Eysenck, M.W., & Derakshan, N. (2011) New perspectives in attentional control theory, 50, 955-960.

Eysenck, M.W., Derakshan, N., Santos, R., & Calvo, M.G. (2007) Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory. Emotion, 7, 336–353.

Fox, E. (2002) Processing emotional facial expressions: the role of anxiety and awareness. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2, 52-63.

Fox, E., Russo, R., Bowles, R., & Dutton, K. (2001) Do threatening stimuli draw or hold visual attention in subclinical anxiety? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 681-700.

Garner, M. (2010) Selective attention to threat in childhood anxiety: Evidence from visual probe paradigms. In J.A. Hadwin & A.P. Field (Eds.) Information Processing Biases and Anxiety: A Developmental Perspective. UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Gerrards-Hesse, A., Spies, K., & Hesse, F.W. (1994) Experimental inductions of emotional states and their effectiveness: A review. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 55-78.

Hadwin, J., & Field, A. (2010) An introduction to the study of information processing biases in childhood anxiety: theoretical and methodological issues. In J.A. Hadwin & A.P. Field (Eds.) Information processing biases and anxiety: a developmental perspective, 1-17. UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Hakamata Y., Lissek, S., Bar-Haim, Y., Britton, J. C., Fox, N. A., Leibenluft, E., Ernst, M., & Pine, D. S. (2010). Attention bias modification


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH Effects of state and trait anxiety in School Children

Ortega, Jiménez and Acos ta (2014)

int.j.psychol.res. 8 (1) PP. 75 - 90

treatment: a meta-analysis towards the establishment of novel treatment for anxiety. Biological Psychiatry, 68, 982–990.

Helfinstein, S.M., White, L.K., Bar-Haim, Y., & Fox, N.A. (2008) Affective primes suppress attention bias to threat in socially anxious individuals. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 799-810.

Helzer, E.G., Connor-Smith, J.K., & Reed, M.A. (2009) Traits, states, and attentional gates: Temperament and threat relevance as predictors of attentional bias to social threat. Anxiety Stress Coping, 22(1), 57-76.

Kindt, M., Bierman, D., & Brosschot, J. (1997a) Cognitive bias in spider fear and control children: assessment of emotional interference by a card format and a single-trial format of the Stroop task. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 66, 163-179.

Kindt, M., Brosschot, J.F., & Everaerd, W. (1997b) Cognitive processing bias of children in a real life stress situation and a neutral situation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 64(1), 79-97.

Koster, E., Crombez, G., Verschuere, B., & De Houwer, J. (2004) Selective attention to threat in the dot probe paradigm: differentiating vigilance and difficulty to disengage. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 1183-1192.

Koster, E.H.W., Crombez, G., Verschuere, B., Van Damme, S., & Wiersema, J.R. (2006) Components of attentional bias to threat in high trait anxiety: Facilitated engagement, impaired disengagement, and attentional avoidance. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1757-1771.

Lang, P.J., Bradley, M.M., & Cuthbert, B.N. (2005). International affective picture system (IAPS): affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual. Technical Report A-6. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

Legerstee, J.S., Tulen, J., Kallen, V.L., Dieleman, G.C., Treffers, P., Verhulst, F.C., & Utens, E. (2009) Threat-related selective attention predicts treatment success in childhood anxiety disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(2), 196-205.

Lonigan, C.J., & Vasey, M.W. (2009) Negative affectivity, effortful control, and attention to threat-relevant stimuli. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 387-399.

MacLeod, C., Mathews, A., & Tata, P. (1986). Attentional bias in the emotional disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 15−20.

MacLeod, C., Rutherford, E., Campbell, L., Ebsworthy, G., & Holker, L. (2002) Selective attention and emotional vulnerability: assessing the causal basis of their association through the experimental manipulation of attentional bias. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 107-123.

Mansell, W., Clark, D.M., Ehlers, A., & Chen, Y. (1999) Social anxiety and attention away from emotional faces. Cognition and Emotion, 13(6), 673-690.

Mathews, A., & MacLeod, C., (1988) Anxiety and the allocation of attention to threat. The Quaterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 40, 653-670.

Mathews, A.M., & Sebastian, S. (1993) Suppression of emotional Stroop effects by fear-arousal. Cognition and Emotion, 7(6), 517-530.

Matthews, A., & Mackintosh, B. (1998). A cognitive model of selective processing in anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 22, 539−560.

McHugo, M. (2010) The role of the amygdala in emotion-attention interactions. Vanderbilt Reviews Neuroscience, 2, 33-40.

McNaughton, N. (2002) Aminergic Transmitter Systems. In H. D’haenen, J. den Boer & P. Willner (Eds.) Biological Psychiatry. England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Ministerio de la Protección social (2003). Estudio nacional sobre salud mental. Bogotá: Ministerio de la Protección Social.

Miu, A.C., Heilman, R.M., & Miclea, M. (2009) Reduced heart rate variability and vagal tone in anxiety: Trait versus state, and the effects of autogenic training. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical, 145, 99-103.

Mogg, K., & Bradley, B.P. (1998) A cognitive-motivational analysis of anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 809–848.

Mogg, K., Bradley, B.P., Bono, J,D., & Painter, M. (1997) Time course of attentional bias for threat information in non-clinical anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 297-303.

Mogg, K., Mathews, A., Bird, C., & Macgregor-Morris, R. (1990) Effects of stress and anxiety on the processing of threat stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1230-1237.

Naccache, L; Gaillard, R; Adam, C; Hasboun, D; Clémenceau, S; Baulac, M; Dehaene, S. & Cohen, L. (2005) A direct intracranial record of emotions evoked by subliminal words. PNAS, 102 (21), 7713-7717.


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH Effects of state and trait anxiety in School Children

Ortega, Jiménez and Acos ta (2014)

int.j.psychol.res. 8 (1) PP. 75 - 90

Öhman, A. (2008) Fear and anxiety: Overlaps and Dissociations. In M. Lewis, J.M. Haviland-Jones & L. Feldman Barret (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions, 709-729. New York: The Guilford Press.

Pérez-Edgar, K., Reeb-Sutherland, B., Martin, J., White, L., Henderson, H., Degnan, K., Hane, A., Pine, D., & Fox, N. (2011) Attention biases to threat link behavioral inhibition to social withdrawal over time in very young children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39, 885-895.

Petrowski, K., Herold, U., Joraschky, P., Mück-Weymann, M., & Siepmann, M. (2010). The effects of psychosocial stress on heart rate variability in panic disorder. German Journal of Psychiatry, 66-73.

Posner, M.I., & Petersen, S.E. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13, 25-42.

Puliafico, A.C., & Kendall, P.C. (2006) Threat-related attentional bias in anxious youth: A review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 9(3), 162-180.

Reinholdt-Dunne, M.L., Mogg, K., Esbjorn, B.H., & Bradley, B.P. (2011) Effects of age and anxiety on processing threat cues in healthy children. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, In Press, 1-12.

Richards, A., French, C., Johnson, W., Naparstek, J., & Williams J. (1992) Effects of mood manipulation and anxiety on performance of an emotional Stroop task. British Journal of Psychology, 83, 479-491.

Richards, H., Hadwin, J., Benson, V., Wenger, M., & Donelly, N. (2011) The influence of anxiety on processing capacity for threat detection. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5, 883-889.

Rislov, S. (2009) Reliability of two versions of the dot-probe task using photographic faces. Psychology Science Quarterly, 51(3), 339-350.

Salemink, E., van den Hout, M.A., & Kindt, M. (2007) Selective attention and threat: Quick orienting versus slow disengagement and two versions of the dot probe task. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 607-615.

Schrooten, M. (2007) Preferential processing in anxiety: selective attention & spatial affective Simon effects. Datawyse, Universitaire Pers Maastricht.

Shechner, T., Britton, J., Pérez-Edgar, K., Bar-Haim, Y., Ernst, M., Fox, N., Leibenluft, E., & Pine, D. (2011). Attention biases, anxiety and development: Toward or away from threats or rewards? Depression and Anxiety, 0, 1-13.

Shipp, S. (2004) The brain circuitry of attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223-230.

Spampinato, M.V., Wood., J., De Simone, V., & Grafman, J. (2009) Neural correlates of anxiety in healthy volunteers: a voxel-based morphometry study. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 21, 199-205.

Spielberger, C. D. (1966). Theory and research on anxiety. In C. D. Spielberger (Ed.), Anxiety and behavior (p. 3–19). New York: Academic Press.

Spielberger, C.D., Gorsuch, R.L., Lushene, R., Vagg, P.R., & Jacobs, G.A. (1983). Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Susa, G., Pitica, I., & Benga, O. (2008) High levels of trait anxiety and attentional biases in preschool and school-aged children. Cognition, Brain, Behavior, 12, 309-326.

Szyf, M. (2009). The epigenetic impact of early life adversity. In Sassone-Corsi, P. (Ed.) Epigenetic Control and Neuronal Function, 28-34. Washington, DC: Society for Neuroscience.

Taelman, J., Vandeput, S., Spaepen, A., & Van Huffel, S. (2009) Influence of mental stress on heart rate and heart rate variability. In J. Vander Sloten, P. Verdonck, M. Nyssen, J. Haueisen (Eds.) ECIFMBE 2008, IFMBE Proceedings 22, 1366-1369.

Telzer, E., Mogg., K., Bradley, B., Ernst, M., Pine, D., & Monk, C. (2008) Relationship between trait anxiety, prefrontal cortex, and attention bias to angry faces in children and adolescents. Biological Psychology, 79, 216-222.

Tottenham, N., Tanaka, J.W., Leon, A.C., McCarry, T., Nurse, M., Hare, T.A., Marcus, D.J., Westerlund, A., Casey, BJ., & Nelson, C. The NimStim set of facial expressions: Judgments from untrained research participants. Psychiatry Research, 168, 242-249.

Vecera, S. & Rizzo, M. (2003). Spatial attention: normal processes and their breakdown. Neurologic Clinics of North America, 21, 575-607.

Waters, A., Lipp, O., & Spence, S. (2004) Attentional bias toward fear-related stimuli: an investigation with nonselected children and adults and children with anxiety disorders. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 89, 320-337.

Wells, A., & Matthews, G. (1994) Attention and emotion: a clinical perspective. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH Effects of state and trait anxiety in School Children

Ortega, Jiménez and Acos ta (2014)

int.j.psychol.res. 8 (1) PP. 75 - 90

Williams, J.M., Mathews, A., & Macleod, C. (1996). The emotional Stroop task and psychopathology. Psychol Bull, 120(1), 3-24.

Williams, J.M., Watts, F.N., MacLeod, C., & Mathews, A. (1988) Cognitive psychology and emotional disorders. Chichester: Wiley

The work that is sent to this journal must be original, not published or sent to be published elsewhere; and if it is accepted for publication, authors will agree to transfer copyright to International Journal of Psychological Research. 

To give up copyright, the authors allow that, International Journal of Psychological Research, distribute the work more broadly, check for the reuse by others and take care of the necessary procedures for the registration and administration of copyright; at the same time, our editorial board represents the interests of the author and allows authors to re-use his work in various forms. In response to the above, authors transfer copyright to the journal, International Journal of Psychological Research. This transfer does not imply other rights which are not those of authorship (for example those that concern about patents). Likewise, preserves the authors rights to use the work integral or partially in lectures, books and courses, as well as make copies for educational purposes. Finally, the authors may use freely the tables and figures in its future work, wherever make explicit reference to the previous publication in International Journal of Psychological Research. The assignment of copyright includes both virtual rights and forms of the article to allow the editorial to disseminate the work in the manner which it deems appropriate. 

The editorial board reserves the right of amendments deemed necessary in the application of the rules of publication.


Download data is not yet available.