Attention orientation in parents exposed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their children

Kara M. Lindstrom*, Donald J. Mandell, George J. Musa, Jennifer C. Britton, Lindsey S. Sankin, Karin Mogg, Brendan P. Bradley, Monique Ernst, Thao Doan, Yair Bar-Haim, Ellen Leibenluft, Daniel S. Pine, Christina W. Hoven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


While trauma affects both parents and their children, minimal research examines the role of information-processing perturbations in shaping reactions to trauma experienced by parents and, in turn, the effect this trauma has on their children. This study examines familial associations among trauma, psychopathology, and attention bias. Specifically, group differences in psychopathology and attention bias were examined in both adults and their children based on trauma exposure. In addition, the association between attention bias in parents and attention bias in their children was examined. Parents exposed to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and their children were recruited from the New York City Metropolitan area. Levels of trauma exposure, psychiatric symptoms, and attention bias to threat, as measured with the dot-probe task, were each assessed in 90 subjects, comprising of 45 parents and one of their children. These measures were examined in parents and their children separately; each parent and child was categorized on the presence of high or low levels of trauma exposure. Although trauma exposure did not relate to psychopathology, parents who were highly exposed to trauma showed greater attention bias towards threat than parents with low trauma exposure. However, the children of high trauma-exposed parents did not show enhanced attention bias towards threat, though threat bias in the high trauma-exposed parents did negatively correlate with threat bias in their children. This association between trauma and attention bias in parents was found four-to-five years after 9/11, suggesting that trauma has enduring influences on threat processing. Larger, prospective studies might examine relationships within families among traumatic exposures, psychopathology, and information-processing functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-266
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 15 May 2011


FundersFunder number
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental HealthZIAMH002780, R01 MH70424


    • Attention
    • Children
    • Development
    • Emotion
    • Faces
    • Trauma


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