The present study examined age-related patterns in children's anxiety-related interpretations and internal attributions of physical symptoms. A large sample of 388 children aged between 4 and 13 years completed a vignette paradigm during which they had to explain the emotional response of the main character who experienced anxiety-related physical symptoms in a variety of daily situations. In addition, children completed measures of cognitive development and anxiety sensitivity. Results demonstrated that age, cognitive development, and anxiety sensitivity were all positively related to children's ability to perceive physical symptoms as a signal of anxiety and making internal attributions. Further, while a substantial proportion of the younger children (i.e., <7 years) were able to make a valid anxiety-related interpretation of a physical symptom, very few were capable of making an internal attribution, which means that children of this age lack the developmental prerequisites for applying physical symptoms-based theories of childhood anxiety.

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Child Psychiatry & Human Development
Department of Psychology

Muris, P., Mayer, B., Freher, N. K., Duncan, S., & Van Den Hout, M. F. C. M. (2010). Children's internal attributions of anxiety-related physical symptoms: Age-related patterns and the role of cognitive development and anxiety sensitivity. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 41(5), 535–548. doi:10.1007/s10578-010-0186-1