Moderating effects of environmental stressors on the development of attention to threat in infancy

Jessica L. Burris, Lori B. Reider, Denise S. Oleas, Kelley E. Gunther, Kristin A. Buss, Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Andy P. Field, Vanessa LoBue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


An attention bias to threat has been linked to psychosocial outcomes across development, including anxiety (Pérez-Edgar, K., Bar-Haim, Y., McDermott, J. M., Chronis-Tuscano, A., Pine, D. S., & Fox, N. A. (2010). Attention biases to threat and behavioral inhibition in early childhood shape adolescent social withdrawal. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(3), 349). Although some attention biases to threat are normative, it remains unclear how these biases diverge into maladaptive patterns of emotion processing for some infants. Here, we examined the relation between household stress, maternal anxiety, and attention bias to threat in a longitudinal sample of infants tested at 4, 8, and 12 months. Infants were presented with a passive viewing eye-tracking task in which angry, happy, or neutral facial configurations appeared in one of the four corners of a screen. We measured infants’ latency to fixate each target image and collected measures of parental anxiety and daily hassles at each timepoint. Intensity of daily parenting hassles moderated patterns of attention bias to threat in infants over time. Infants exposed to heightened levels of parental hassles became slower to detect angry (but not happy) facial configurations compared with neutral faces between 4 and 12 months of age, regardless of parental anxiety. Our findings highlight the potential impact of the environment on the development of infants’ early threat processing and the need to further investigate how early environmental factors shape the development of infant emotion processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22241
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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