Impaired spatial navigation in pediatric anxiety

Sven C. Mueller, Veronica Temple, Brian Cornwell, Christian Grillon, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Previous theories implicate hippocampal dysfunction in anxiety disorders. Most of the data supporting these theories stem from animal research, particularly lesion studies. The generalization of findings from rodent models to human function is hampered by fundamental inter-species differences. The present work uses a task of spatial orientation, which is known to rely on hippocampal function. Deficits in spatial navigation in anxious children suggest that the hippocampal network involved in spatial orientation is also implicated in anxiety disorders. Methods: Thirty-four treatmentnaive children with an anxiety disorder (mean 11.00 years ± 2.54) are compared to 35 healthy age- and IQ-matched healthy children (mean 11.95 years ± 2.36) on a virtual, computer-based equivalent of the Morris Water Maze task. Results: Results indicate that children with anxiety disorder exhibit overall impaired performance relative to the comparison group. Anxious children made more heading direction errors and had worse accuracy in completing trials relative to controls. Conclusions: The results present novel evidence that spatial orientation deficits occur in pediatric anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1227-1234
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Hippocampus
  • Pediatric
  • Spatial navigation
  • Water maze

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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