Relationship between trait anxiety, prefrontal cortex, and attention bias to angry faces in children and adolescents

Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a visual-probe task that assesses attention to threat, we investigated the cognitive and neurophysiological correlates of trait anxiety in youth. During fMRI acquisition, 16 healthy children and adolescents viewed angry-neutral face pairs and responded to a probe that was on the same (angry-congruent) or opposite (angry-incongruent) side as the angry face. Attention bias scores were calculated by subtracting participants' mean reaction time for angry-congruent trials from angry-incongruent trials. Trait anxiety was positively associated with attention bias towards angry faces. Neurophysiologically, trait anxiety was positively associated with right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation on a contrast of trials that reflect the attention bias for angry faces (i.e. angry-incongruent versus angry-congruent trials). Trait anxiety was also positively associated with right ventrolateral PFC activation on trials with face stimuli (vesus baseline), irrespective of their emotional content.