Selective attention to affective stimuli and clinical depression among youths: Role of anxiety and specificity of emotion

Benjamin L. Hankin, Brandon E. Gibb, John R.Z. Abela, Kate Flory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive models of psychopathology posit that the content or focus of information-processing biases (e.g., attentional biases) is disorder specific: Depression is hypothesized to be characterized by attentional biases specifically for depression-relevant stimuli (e.g., sad facial expressions), whereas anxiety should relate particularly to attentional biases to threat-relevant stimuli (e.g., angry faces). However, little research has investigated this specificity hypothesis and none with a sample of youths. The present study examined attentional biases to emotional faces (sad, angry, and happy compared with neutral) in groups of pure depressed, pure anxious, comorbid depressed and anxious, and control youths (ages 9-17 years; N = 161). Consistent with cognitive models, pure depressed and pure anxious youths exhibited attentional biases specifically to sad and angry faces, respectively, whereas comorbid youths exhibited attentional biases to both facial expressions. In addition, control youths exhibited attentional avoidance of sad faces, and comorbid boys avoided happy faces. Overall, findings suggest that cognitive biases and processing of particular emotional information are specific to pure clinical depression and anxiety, and results inform etiological models of potentially specific processes that are associated with internalizing disorders among youths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-501
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Biased information processing
  • Depression
  • Emotion
  • Youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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