Recent models of anxiety disorders emphasize abnormalities in emotional reactivity and regulation. However, the empirical basis for this view is limited, particularly in children and adolescents. The present study examined whether anxious children suffer both negative emotional hyper-reactivity and deficits in cognitive emotion regulation. Participants were 49 children aged 10-17 with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or separation anxiety disorder as their primary diagnosis, as well as 42 age- and gender-matched non-anxious controls. After completing a diagnostic interview and self-report questionnaires, participants were presented with pictures of threatening scenes with the instructions either to simply view them or to use reappraisal, a cognitive emotion regulation strategy, to decrease their negative emotional response. Emotion ratings, content analysis of reappraisal responses, and reports of everyday use of reappraisal were used to assess negative emotional reactivity, reappraisal ability, efficacy and frequency. Relative to controls, children with anxiety disorders (1) experienced greater negative emotional responses to the images, (2) were less successful at applying reappraisals, but (3) showed intact ability to reduce their negative emotions following reappraisal. They also (4) reported less frequent use of reappraisal in everyday life. Implications for the assessment and treatment of childhood anxiety disorders are discussed. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
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