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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Looking for trouble : relations between the hostile attentional bias and aggression in boys Miller, Natalie V.


The social information-processing model argues that preferentially attending to hostile cues (hostile attentional bias) predisposes children to behave aggressively. However, the attentional processes involved in this bias are not well specified and research following from the model has produced inconsistent results, suggesting a possible moderating variable. To address these issues, the current study examined the relation between a hostile attentional bias and aggression in a community sample of 113 boys (9-12 years). The hostile attentional bias was measured using three attention tasks (a dot-probe, a temporal order judgment, and an attention shifting task) designed to assess attentional biases within different attentional processes. Bias scores were calculated by comparing boys’ performance in response to hostile versus neutral stimuli (e.g., photos of angry versus neutral peer faces). Aggression was measured using parent- and child- reports, combined into a composite variable. Based on previous research of attentional biases within the anxiety literature, effortful control was identified as a possible moderating variable and was measured in the current study using parent-report. The findings from this study were mixed. In support of the hypotheses, bias scores computed from the temporal order judgment task were positively related to aggression. Effortful control moderated this relation, which was attenuated as levels of effortful control increased. Conversely, bias scores computed from the dot-probe and attention shifting tasks were not significantly related to aggression, and effortful control was not a significant moderator. Interestingly, in follow-up analyses using bias scores contrasting response to neutral versus happy stimuli in the attention shifting task, being distracting by neutral stimuli was positively related to aggression; this relation was moderated by effortful control. Post-task emotion ratings of these stimuli revealed that aggression was associated with a tendency to rate neutral stimuli as appearing angrier. Given these findings, the attentional salience of neutral stimuli is discussed. These results highlight the importance of considering multiple attentional processes in the measurement of attentional biases, and extend previous research by demonstrating a link between aggression and a hostile attentional bias within certain attentional processes. These results also suggest that effortful control may exert some protective effects against the bias.

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