Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis: Eye-Tracking of Attention to Threat in Child and Adolescent Anxiety

Stephen Lisk, Ayesha Vaswani, Marian Linetzky, Yair Bar-Haim, Jennifer Y.F. Lau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: Attention biases for threat may reflect an early risk marker for anxiety disorders. Yet questions remain regarding the direction and time-course of anxiety-linked biased attention patterns in youth. A meta-analysis of eye-tracking studies of biased attention for threat was used to compare the presence of an initial vigilance toward threat and a subsequent avoidance in anxious and nonanxious youths. Method: PubMed, PsycARTICLES, Medline, PsychINFO, and Embase were searched using anxiety, children and adolescent, and eye-tracking-related key terms. Study inclusion criteria were as follows: studies including participants ≤18 years of age; reported anxiety using standardized measures; measured attention bias using eye tracking with a free-viewing task; comparison of attention toward threatening and neutral stimuli; and available data to allow effect size computation for at least one relevant measure. A random effects model estimated between- and within-group effects of first fixations toward threat and overall dwell time on threat. Results: Thirteen eligible studies involving 798 participants showed that neither youths with or without anxiety showed significant bias in first fixation to threat versus neutral stimuli. However anxious youths showed significantly less overall dwell time on threat versus neutral stimuli than nonanxious controls (g = −0.26). Conclusion: Contrasting with adult eye-tracking data and child and adolescent data from reaction time indices of attention biases to threat, there was no vigilance bias toward threat in anxious youths. Instead, anxious youths were more avoidant of threat across the time course of stimulus viewing. Developmental differences in brain circuits contributing to attention deployment to emotional stimuli and their relationship with anxiety are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-99.e1
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • attention bias
  • child and adolescent anxiety
  • eye-tracking
  • threat processing


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