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.
Price, R. B., Allen, K. B., Silk, J. S., Ladouceur, C. D., Ryan, N. D., Dahl, R. E., … Siegle, G. J. (2016). Vigilance in the laboratory predicts avoidance in the real world: A dimensional analysis of neural, behavioral, and ecological momentary data in anxious youth. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 128–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2016.03.001