ATTENTIONAL SET-SHIFTING IN PRESCHOOLERS: ANXIETY-RELATED RESPONSE PATTERNS
The present paper aimed to investigate the relation between prefrontally-mediated attentional flexibility and anxiety levels in a non-clinical sample of preschool children. Anxiety was assessed using the Spence Preschool Anxiety Scale (Spence, Rapee, McDonald, & Ingram, 2001), while cognitive flexibility was measured using the Intra/Extradimensional Set Shift task (IED) from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB). Two separate studies were conducted, using two different versions of the IED task. In both studies, the samples were divided into a high-anxiety and a low-anxiety group based on each sampleï¿½s median score on the scale. In the first study (N=78; age range: 3-6 years), we found a trend towards better performance (more stages completed) in the high-anxiety group. The tendency was statistically significant only in girls, while it was absent in boys. This pattern of performance was related to a tendency towards longer response latencies in girls with higher levels of anxiety. There was also a general tendency towards more extradimensional shifting errors than reversal errors. The second study (N=29; age range: 4-7 years) revealed only a performance trend towards fewer total errors in girls than boys. However, the rule reversal shift tended to have a significantly larger impact in high-anxiety boys, compared to either girls or low-anxiety boys. These results point to the relevance of investigating anxiety-related cognitive performance in preschoolers.
KEYWORDS: anxiety, preschoolers, attentional flexibility, reversal learning.