Threats, rewards, and attention deployment in anxious youth and adults: An eye tracking study

Tomer Shechner, Johanna M. Jarcho, Stuart Wong, Ellen Leibenluft, Daniel S. Pine, Eric E. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study examines anxiety and age associations with attention allocation and physiological response to threats and rewards. Twenty-two healthy-adults, 20 anxious-adults, 26 healthy-youth, and 19 anxious-youth completed two eye-tracking tasks. In the Visual Scene Task (VST), participants’ fixations were recorded while they viewed a central neutral image flanked by two threatening or two rewarding stimuli. In the Negative Words Task (NWT), physiological response was measured by means of pupil diameter change while negative and neutral words were presented. For both tasks, no interaction was found between anxiety and age-group. In the VST, anxious participants avoided the threatening images when groups were collapsed across age. Similarly, adults but not adolescents avoided the threatening images when collapsed across anxiety. No differences were found for rewarding images. In NWT, all subjects demonstrated increase in pupil dilation after word presentation. Only main effect of age emerged with stronger pupil dilation in adults than children. Finally, maximum pupil change was correlated with threat avoidance bias in the scene task. Gaze patterns and pupil dilation show that anxiety and age are associated with attention allocation to threats. The relations between attention and autonomic arousal point to a complex interaction between bottom-up and top-down processes as they relate to attention allocation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-129
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Anxiety
  • Attention allocation
  • Development
  • Eye tracking
  • Pupil dilation
  • Social and non-social stimuli

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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