Anxiety and emotion in parent-child dyads: A multimodal study

2022 Award: $92,932

Anxiety is on the rise, is associated with altered emotional processing, and can emerge in preschool, a time when children rely on parents or caregivers to process emotional and handle worry. Developing successful treatments for childhood anxiety will depend on understanding the mechanisms that underlie it and parent-child dyads. This project is an important first step to better understand and treat anxiety disorders, by measuring brain and behavioral aspects of anxiety and emotion in both parents and children.

Need/Problem: Anxiety disorders (AD) can emerge in early childhood and predict later symptoms and psychopathology. Emotional processing is an important core aspect of ADs – an underlying fear, worry, or distress. In preschool children, some worry is typical as they develop brain networks to process emotional information. This development relies on parents or caregivers to help modify reactions to emotional information and to help regulate emotions. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased AD in both adults and children, creating a unique vulnerability for preschool children. There is an increased need to better understand ADs in parents and children, a parent-child dyad, and to understand and quantify the role of emotional processing in ADs.

Grant Summary: This project will examine emotional processing and anxiety symptoms in parent-child dyads using both behavioral measures and neurophysiological measures (from an EEG). We will quantify neural responses associated with anxiety symptoms and emotional information and further examine the relationship between emotional processing and anxiety, as well as the relationship between parent-child anxiety and emotional responses. This study is the first in ADs to use this multimodal approach in parent-child dyads.

Goals and Projected Outcomes: The goal of the project is to lay the foundation for parent-child research into ADs to better understand the mechanisms of emotional processing and anxiety and their relationship. This is an important first step to begin connecting the dots between anxiety and emotion across the parent-child dyads and lay the foundation for a program of research to provide interventions for children and families struggling with ADs.

Alana Campbell, PhD

Grant Details: Most assessment of child AD is conducted with a parental report, yet there are behavioral and neurophysiological measures that may objectively capture and quantify anxiety symptoms and provide insight into targets for treatment interventions. This project will quantify both anxiety and emotion using a multimodal assessment that spans parent report, self-report, behavioral, and neurophysiological measures to examine anxiety and emotional processing in 25 preschool children and their parents. This will be the first such multimodal examination in parent-child dyads.