Neural correlates of attention bias to masked facial threat cues: Examining children at-risk for social anxiety disorder

Eran S. Auday, Bradley C. Taber-Thomas, Koraly E. Pérez-Edgar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Behavioral inhibition (BI) is an early-appearing temperament trait and a robust predictor of social anxiety disorder (SAD). Both BI and anxiety may have distinct patterns of emotion processing marked by heightened neural responses to threat cues. BI and anxious children display similar frontolimbic patterns when completing an emotion-face attention bias task with supraliminal presentation. Anxious children also show a distinct neural response to the same task with subliminal face presentations, probing stimulus-driven attention networks. We do not have parallel data available for BI children, limiting our understanding of underlying affective mechanisms potentially linking early BI to the later emergence of anxiety. Method: We examined the neural response to subliminal threat presentation during an emotion-face masked dot-probe task in children oversampled for BI (N = 67; 30 BI, 9–12 yrs). Results: Non-BI children displayed greater activation versus BI children in several regions in response to threat faces versus neutral faces, including striatum, prefrontal and temporal lobes. When comparing congruent and incongruent trials, which require attention disengagement, BI children showed greater activation than non-BI children in the cerebellum, which is implicated in rapidly coordinating information processing, aversive conditioning, and learning the precise timing of anticipatory responses. Conclusions: Non-BI children may more readily engage rapid coordinated frontolimbic circuitry to salient stimuli, whereas BI children may preferentially engage subcortical circuitry, in response to limbic “alarms” triggered by subliminal threat cues. These data help reveal the extent to which temperamental risk shares similar neurocircuitry previously documented in anxious adolescents and young adults in response to masked threat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-212
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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