The Relationship Between Attentional Bias and Anxiety in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorders


  • Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) in Mental Health; code: PCCKASA

Address for correspondence and reprints: Matthew Hollocks, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, PO85, Institute of Psychiatry, DeCrespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. E-mail:


Young people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to have heightened levels of anxiety compared with their typically developing (non-ASD) peers. The reasons for this are poorly understood, and there has been little research investigating the cognitive correlates of anxiety in individuals with ASD. Typically developing youth with anxiety disorders have frequently been found to show an attentional bias toward threatening information. In this study, we examined whether such a bias was also found in young people with ASD and anxiety symptoms. The protocol utilized two versions of the dot-probe paradigm, the first with emotional faces and the second with emotional words. Participants comprised 38 boys with an ASD and 41 typically developing controls aged 10–16 years of age. Those with an ASD displayed higher levels of parent- and child-rated anxiety (both P < 0.001) and depression (P < 0.001) compared with controls. However, there were no significant group differences in attentional bias scores and no significant relationship between anxiety and attentional bias in either the face or word tasks, for either group. Our findings suggest that, for young people with ASD, unlike non-ASD individuals with an anxiety disorder, high levels of anxiety may not be associated with attentional bias to threat. This may indicate that anxiety in ASD has different cognitive correlates from anxiety in the typically developing population. Further conclusions, study limitations, and future directions are discussed. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●–●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.