Children With Fragile X Syndrome Display Threat-Specific Biases Toward Emotion

Jessica L. Burris, Ryan A. Barry-Anwar, Riley N. Sims, Randi J. Hagerman, Flora Tassone, Susan M. Rivera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability. FXS is caused by a silencing of the FMR1 gene that results in a loss or absence of the gene's protein product, fragile X mental retardation protein. The phenotype of FXS is consistently associated with heightened anxiety, although no previous study has investigated attentional bias toward threat, a hallmark of anxiety disorders, in individuals with FXS. Methods: The current study employed a passive-viewing eye-tracking version of the dot probe task to investigate attentional biases toward emotional faces in young children with FXS (n = 47) and without FXS (n = 94). Results: We found that the FXS group showed a significantly greater bias toward threatening emotions than toward positive emotions. This threat specificity was not seen in either a mental age-matched group or a chronological age-matched group of typically developing children. Unlike the typically developing groups, the FXS group showed no bias toward positive emotion. Conclusions: The current study shows that children with FXS have a significant bias toward threatening information, an attentional profile that has been linked with anxiety. It also supports the use of eye-tracking methodology to index neural and attentional responses in young children with FXS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
StateAccepted/In press - 2017


  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Eye tracking
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Threat processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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