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Vigilance in the laboratory predicts avoidance in the real world: A dimensional analysis of neural, behavioral, and ecological momentary data in anxious youth

  • Author(s): Price, RB
  • Allen, KB
  • Silk, JS
  • Ladouceur, CD
  • Ryan, ND
  • Dahl, RE
  • Forbes, EE
  • Siegle, GJ
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2016 The Authors Vigilance and avoidance of threat are observed in anxious adults during laboratory tasks, and are posited to have real-world clinical relevance, but data are mixed in anxious youth. We propose that vigilance-avoidance patterns will become evident in anxious youth through a focus on individual differences and real-world strategic avoidance. Decreased functional connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (PFC) could play a mechanistic role in this link. 78 clinically anxious youth completed a dot-probe task to assess vigilance to threat while undergoing fMRI. Real-world avoidance was assessed using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) of self-reported suppression and distraction during negative life events. Vigilance toward threat was positively associated with EMA distraction and suppression. Functional connectivity between a right amygdala seed region and dorsomedial and right dorsolateral PFC regions was inversely related to EMA distraction. Dorsolateral PFC-amygdalar connectivity statistically mediated the relationship between attentional vigilance and real-world distraction. Findings suggest anxious youth showing attentional vigilance toward threat are more likely to use suppression and distraction to regulate negative emotions. Reduced PFC control over limbic reactivity is a possible neural substrate of this pattern. These findings lend ecological validity to laboratory vigilance assessments and suggest PFC-amygdalar connectivity is a neural mechanism bridging laboratory and naturalistic contexts.

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