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Teen poor attention control risk for anxiety disorders

Research has found that poor attention control in the early teen years is related to a genetic risk factor that can latter appear in the adult as an anxiety disorder — presenting as (1) educational underachievement, (2) depression, (3) drug dependence, or perhaps even (4) suicidal behavior.


The National Institutes of Mental Health reports that 8 per cent of teens 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder. Most adults diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders have also reported their symptoms appeared early in their lives.

"Appropriate and earlier intervention could really assist these patients and improve their outlooks in the long-term. Having a visible marker like low attention control, which usually appears and can be identified before the onset of anxiety, could improve treatment of these disorders."

Jeffrey Gagne PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Arlington, and lead author of the study.


Gagne and UTA graduate student Catherine Spann recently published their research in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Deirdre O'Sullivan, Nicole Schmidt and H. Hill Goldsmith, all of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also participated in the study, supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health including a grant from the Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience.

This is the first twin study of genetics and environmental factors that contribute to poor attention control in adolescents. Researchers used a combination of ratings by mothers and teens to score for obsessive, social, separation and generalized anxiety symptoms in 446 twin pairs enrolled in the Wisconsin Twin Project [mean age of 13.6 years].

Although non-shared environmental influences were significant, genetic connection to attention control ranged from 36 to 47 per cent suggesting that low attention can be considered a genetic risk factor for anxiety. However, risk levels varied depending on the emotional disorder. The highest genetic connections were for generalized and separation anxieties — the lowest for obsessive-compulsive disorder.


"Adolescence is clearly an important developmental period. Better assessment of teens' ability to concentrate could facilitate the identification of those at risk of anxiety and could also inform molecular genetic studies, which would be the logical next stage for research."

Perry Fuchs PhD, Chair, Department of Psychology, College of Science, University of Texas at Arlington.


Abstract
We investigated the etiology of attentional control (AC) and four different anxiety symptom types (generalized, obsessive-compulsive, separation, and social) in an adolescent sample of over 400 twin pairs. Genetic factors contributed to 55% of the variance in AC and between 43 and 58% of the variance in anxiety. Negative phenotypic associations between AC and anxiety indicated that lower attentional ability is related to increased risk for all 4 anxiety categories. Genetic correlations between AC and anxiety phenotypes ranged from −.36 to −.47, with evidence of nonshared environmental covariance between AC and generalized and separation anxiety. Results suggest that AC is a phenotypic and genetic risk factor for anxiety in early adolescence, with somewhat differing levels of risk depending on symptomatology.

Gagne joined UTA in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds a doctorate in psychology from Boston University and completed his post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a member of the Behavior Genetics Association and the Society for Research in Child Development, among others.

Catherine Spann is a recent Ph.D. graduate from UTA's department of psychology, who was mentored by Dr. Gagne.

About The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is a Research-1 Carnegie "highest research activity" institution of more than 53,000 degree-seeking students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.
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Jun 22, 2016   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News   News Archive   



This is the first twin study examination of genetics and environmental
factors that contribute to poor attention control in adolescents.
Image Credit: Public Domain


 


 

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