The Role of EEG Asymmetry and Behavioral Inhibition in Attentional Biases to Threat

Open Access
Ranieri, Gina Lynn
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Koraly Elisa Perez Edgar, Thesis Supervisor
  • William Ray, Honors Advisor
  • Behavioral inhibition
  • EEG asymmetry
  • attentional bias
  • anxiety
Behavioral inhibition (BI) is an early-childhood temperamental trait linked to social withdrawal and the emergence of anxiety in adolescence. BI, in turn, has been linked to a pattern of greater electroencephalogram (EEG) activity in the right hemisphere over the frontal lobe. A separate line of research has linked right frontal EEG asymmetry to anxiety and social withdrawal. The two studies presented here investigate the moderating role of brain electrophysiology and childhood temperament on attentional bias to threatening stimuli. This analysis is based on a newly-emerging line of work suggesting that attention biases to threat may play a causal role in the emergence of anxiety. To do so we examine attention shifting ability using two versions of the Posner task modified to include emotional input. In the two studies, EEG asymmetry and behavioral inhibition scores of children ages 4-7 years and 9-12 years were assessed and then compared to children’s performance on the affective Posner task. In the first version, children were given positive and negative feedback on their performance. In the second version, children were shown angry and neutral faces as attention cues. Our first aim for both of these studies was to determine the magnitude of the impact of valid and invalid attention cueing on performance (known as the validity effect) as a function of feedback (study 1) and emotion faces (study 2). Results indicate that the cost of invalid cueing is greater than the benefit for valid trials, regardless of trial type. In terms of individual differences, the cost and benefits of cueing were magnified in children with right EEG asymmetry, particularly in the face of negative feedback. Although the pattern was similar in study 2, the findings were non-significant, likely due to sample size. The findings suggest that underlying biological markers of risk (i.e., EEG asymmetry) may be associated with difficulties controlling selective attention in the face of negative or threatening stimuli. These preliminary exploratory data may serve as the foundation for future larger-scale studies.