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Training anxious children to disengage attention from threat: a randomized controlled trial


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Background:  Threat-related attention biases have been implicated in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. As a result, attention bias modification (ABM) protocols have been employed as treatments for anxious adults. However, they have yet to emerge for children. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial was conducted to examine the efficacy of an ABM protocol designed to facilitate attention disengagement from threats, thereby reducing anxiety and stress vulnerability in children.

Methods:  Participants were 34 chronically high-anxious 10-year-olds. An emotional attention spatial cueing task was used. In the ABM condition (= 18), threat faces never cued the targets’ locations, such that the valid–invalid ratio was 0%/100%, respectively. The valid–invalid ratio on neutral cue trials was 25%/75%, respectively. In the control condition, the valid–invalid ratio was 25%/75% for both neutral and threat faces. Anxiety and depression were measured pre- and post-training and pre- and post-stress induction.

Results:  ABM facilitated attention disengagement from threat. In response to the stressor task, children in the ABM condition reported less state anxiety relative to controls.

Conclusion:  Computerized attention training procedures may be beneficial for reducing stress vulnerability in anxious children.