Incidental threat during visuospatial working memory in adolescent anxiety: An emotional memory-guided saccade task

Sven C. Mueller, Tomer Shechner, Dana Rosen, Eric E. Nelson, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Pediatric anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric mental illnesses in children and adolescents, and are associated with abnormal cognitive control in emotional, particularly threat, contexts. In a series of studies using eye movement saccade tasks, we reported anxiety-related alterations in the interplay of inhibitory control with incentives, or with emotional distractors. The present study extends these findings to working memory (WM), and queries the interaction of spatial WM with emotional stimuli in pediatric clinical anxiety. Methods: Participants were 33 children/adolescents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 22 age-matched healthy comparison youths. Participants completed a novel eye movement task, an affective variant of the memory-guided saccade task. This task assessed the influence of incidental threat on spatial WM processes during high and low cognitive load. Results: Healthy but not anxious children/adolescents showed slowed saccade latencies during incidental threat in low-load but not high-load WM conditions. No other group effects emerged on saccade latency or accuracy. Conclusions: The current data suggest a differential pattern of how emotion interacts with cognitive control in healthy youth relative to anxious youth. These findings extend data from inhibitory processes, reported previously, to spatial WM in pediatric anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-295
Number of pages7
JournalDepression and anxiety
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • children/adolescents
  • cognitive load
  • cognitive resources
  • development
  • emotion
  • eye movement
  • saccade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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