Skip to main content

The impacts of anxiety and depressive symptoms on emotional processing in children and their parents: an event-related potential study



Anxiety and depressive symptoms are associated with dysregulated emotional processing. However, less is known about the intra-personal and inter-personal impacts of anxiety and depressive symptoms on emotional processing in children and their parents.


In a community sample of 36 parent-child dyads (total N = 72), the current study investigated the intra- and inter-personal effects of anxiety and depressive symptoms on the child’s and the parent’s neurophysiological responses to emotional (i.e., pleasant and unpleasant) stimuli, indexed by the late positive potential (LPP).


The results indicated that children’s anxiety symptoms were correlated with their enhanced LPPs to pleasant versus neutral pictures. Additionally, children’s depressive symptoms related to their increased LPPs to unpleasant stimuli. Importantly, children’s anxiety symptoms were associated with their parents’ increased LPPs to both unpleasant and pleasant information.


These findings suggest that anxiety symptoms in community children were related to their own as well as their parents’ emotional processing. The findings contribute to cognitive and family models of anxiety and depression and further highlight the potential role of dyadic interventions for the alleviation of impairing symptoms in children and their caregivers.


Anxiety and depressive symptoms are among the most common mental health concerns for both children [1, 2] and adults [3]. Heightened levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, even at the subclinical level, place individuals at risk for concurrent and subsequent difficulties in social competence (e.g., insecure attachment and negative parenting, [4]) and physical well-being (e.g., cardiovascular disease, [5]). Treatment effects are generally modest for internalizing disorders in both children and adults, suggesting the need to further identify potentially malleable targets for intervention [6, 7].

According to the cognitive models of psychopathology [8], one way various forms of psychopathology are manifested is through disrupted processing of emotional information [9, 10]. Event-related potentials (ERPs), recorded from the scalp through electroencephalogram (EEG), provide an excellent way to study neural activity related to emotional processing as well the specific abnormalities underlying psychopathological symptoms given high temporal resolution [11, 12]. In particular, the late positive potential (LPP), a positive component of the ERP, appears approximately 300 ms following the onset of emotional stimuli and tends to reach a maximum at centroparietal recording sites [13, 14]. The LPP is thought to reflect sustained attention to and elaborative processing of emotional stimuli in both children [11, 15] and adults [16].

The LPP has a greater amplitude to both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli than to neutral stimuli in community [11] and clinical samples [17, 18]. Moreover, the magnitude of the difference between emotional versus neutral stimuli is thought to reflect individual differences in emotion processing and has been shown to relate to symptoms of psychopathology, such as anxiety [15] and depression [19]. Studying neural correlates of normal and abnormal emotional processing may help to identify risk processes in the emergence of emotional problems and psychopathology. Prior studies have examined these processes in clinical and healthy, non-disordered samples [19]. However, much information is lost about how these processes operate along the continuum of normal and abnormal development. The present study addresses this critical research gap and examines the relation between symptoms of psychopathology and neural correlates of emotional processing in a community sample of children and their parents who are experiencing a range of symptoms.

Intrapersonal effects of symptoms and the LPP response

Individuals with symptoms of anxiety and depression show abnormalities in their LPP response. Cognitive models of anxiety, and the hypervigilance hypothesis in particular, posit that anxious individuals may overly attend to threatening information in their environment [20]. Consistent with this view, greater levels of anxiety symptoms have been shown to relate to increased LPPs to unpleasant stimuli [21, 22]. For example, Solomon and colleagues examined the associations between temperamental fear and anxiety and LPP amplitudes in typically developing 5-7-year-old children [15]. Results showed that larger LPP amplitude difference between unpleasant and neutral pictures positively correlated with greater observed fearful behaviors. Similarly, increased LPP amplitudes following the onset of unpleasant versus neutral pictures were found among adults with anxiety disorders [12, 16] and high levels of trait anxiety [23]. Collectively, anxiety is consistently linked with hypervigilance towards threat-related information as evidenced by enhanced LPPs to unpleasant stimuli.

Less work has considered whether anxious individuals present attentional biases when processing pleasant-related information. Evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging studies demonstrates that anxiety-related attentional biases may also be observed in response to pleasant stimuli [24, 25]. According to emotionality hypothesis [26], the hypervigilance pattern in anxiety may not be specific to threats but to emotional information in general; that is, anxiety-related attentional biases may also be observed in response to pleasant materials. Indeed, some studies have reported an anxiety-related bias for pleasant stimuli [27, 28]. For example, Burkhouse et al. found that female undergraduates with high levels of worry displayed increased LPP amplitudes in response to pleasant compared to neutral stimuli when completing a passive viewing task [28]. However, null results have also been reported in studies of anxiety. Specifically, adults with anxiety disorders [29], children with higher levels of parent-reported anxiety symptoms [15, 30], and children with current anxiety disorders [21] exhibited no difference in LPP amplitudes when processing pleasant or neutral stimuli. For instance, McLean et al. [30] found that anxiety problems in 4 years old children were not associated with differences in LPP responses between pleasant and neutral stimuli. Potential reasons for these mixed findings across studies may be the various types of stimuli used for emotional induction and the different methods used to assess emotional processing biases.

In contrast to anxiety, cognitive models of depression suggest that individuals with depressive symptoms may exhibit a decreased attention to positive emotions [31, 32]. Several studies have found that adults with nonclinical depressive symptoms [33, 34] and with major depressive disorder [29, 35] exhibit reduced LPPs to happy and rewarding pictures. Similar to the results of adult studies, there is evidence to suggest that both clinically depressed children [19, 36] and children with higher depressive symptoms [37, 38] show reduced LPPs to pleasant stimuli.

However, the extant literature has conflicting opinions as to whether individuals with depressive symptoms may exhibit excessive attention toward negative emotions [39], or are instead characterized by blunted processing of unpleasant stimuli emotional responses to negative stimuli [32]. For instance, Jaworska et al. found that adults with a major depressive disorder displayed enhanced LPPs in response to sad faces [40]. Nonetheless, depression has also been related to adults’ attenuated LPP responses when processing aversive pictures [12, 33] or anger faces [41]. Similarly, inconsistent results have been found when children process unpleasant stimuli. Specifically, Auerbach et al. found adolescents aged 13–18 with major depressive disorder displayed an enhanced LPP when processing self-referential negative words [42]. By contrast, in a community sample of 3-year-old children, a greater degree of sadness predicted reduced LPP reactivity to unpleasant pictures 6 years later [43]. Inconsistent findings highlight the need to further clarify the relation between depressive symptoms and the LPP in response to unpleasant stimuli. Doing so is crucial for refining models of depression and also identifying potentially malleable targets of intervention.

Interpersonal effects of symptoms and the LPP response

Both anxiety and depressive symptoms and disorders, which reflect deficits in emotion regulation, are familial. To date research has primarily focused on identifying genetic and environmental correlates and/or contributions [44, 45]. Family systems theory suggests that family members are necessarily interdependent and exert reciprocal impacts on one another [46] and emerging work suggests that family members may also influence one another’s neural responses to emotional stimuli [47,48,49]. For example, van den Heuvel et al. found that 4-year-old children who were prenatally exposed to higher maternal anxiety displayed greater LPPs to neutral pictures at age 4 [50]. According to cognitive models of anxiety [20], young children at risk for anxiety symptoms may be hypervigilant for threat, and in turn perceive ambiguous stimuli as threatening. In another study, Nelson et al. showed that parents’ anxiety disorders (particularly fear disorders) were associated with 13-15-year-old children’s increased LPPs to unpleasant pictures [48]. These findings are in line with both family systems theory and cognitive models of psychopathology, and suggest that the effects of anxiety symptoms on emotional processing may operate at the interpersonal level.

However, in parallel with the literature on the intrapersonal influence of depression on LPP responses to unpleasant stimuli, findings related to interpersonal effect are also mixed. Several studies have provided evidence that depressive symptoms in parents are correlated with a reduced LPP to both unpleasant and pleasant stimuli in offspring [43, 48, 51]. However, others have shown the opposite pattern, namely a greater LPP to unpleasant stimuli among children with a maternal history of depression [49]. Given the dearth of literature examining relations between parents’ symptoms and children’s neural responses, additional research is needed to understand how parents’ symptoms confer risk for children’s abnormalities in emotional processing at the neural level.

Consistent with family systems theory [46], children may have reciprocal and adverse consequences on their parents’ emotional functioning due to the bidirectional nature of parent-child interactions [52, 53]. However, no study, to our knowledge, has yet examined the influences of child psychopathology on parental LPPs to emotional stimuli. Despite lack of direct evidence, related studies suggest that children’s problematic characteristics, such as frequent and intense distress and depression, are likely to heighten parents’ negative emotionality [54, 55]. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that child psychopathological symptoms might increase the parental risk for abnormalities in emotional processing.

The present study

The current study investigated the intra- and inter-personal effects of anxiety and depressive symptoms on neural responses to emotional stimuli in a community sample of parent-child dyads. This study makes a substantive contribution by using a rigorous methodological approach to test hypotheses that integrate both cognitive and family theories. Such basic research is needed to best inform a promising approach to improve the utility of cognitive interventions to prevent and relieve psychopathological symptoms [56].

Given extant literature and based on cognitive and family-systems theories, we expected that children and parents would show a higher amplitude LPP to both unpleasant and pleasant pictures compared to neutral pictures. However, we expected the degree of the amplitude to vary as a function of parent and child symptoms. On the intrapersonal level, consistent with the hypervigilance hypothesis [20], we expected that parents and children with higher levels of anxiety symptoms would display enhanced LPP amplitudes to pleasant and unpleasant pictures. On the other hand, based on cognitive models of depression [31, 32] and previous findings [19, 33], we expected that parents and children with higher levels of depressive symptoms would show decreased LPPs to pleasant pictures. On the interpersonal level, consistent with the ideas proposed by the family systems theory [46] and previous studies [50, 51], we expected that parents’ and children’s symptoms would be related to their partner’s LPP responses to emotional stimuli. However, because of the dearth of literature in this area, and conflicting findings among the few existing studies we did not have specific hypotheses about the directions of the effects.



Thirty-nine parent-child dyads participated in the current study. Participants were recruited through online advertisements and flyers distributed in the community. Children were between 7 and 12 years old (20 boys and 19 girls). Parents were between 33 and 45 years old (30 biological mothers and 9 biological fathers) and self-identified as the primary caregivers. Three dyads were excluded from analysis due to poor quality of recordings. The final sample consisted of 36 children (M = 9.01 years, SD = 1.85 years; 18 boys and 18 girls), and their parents (M = 39.28 years, SD = 2.40 years; 28 mothers and 8 fathers). Most families (86.1%) had an annual household income at or above the average family income of the city (i.e., 150,000 RMB, approximately 21,800 USD; [57]). Most parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education (91.7%) and were married (97.2%) at the time of the study. All parent-child dyads were Chinese Han ethnicity.


During the laboratory visit, written informed parental consent and child assent were obtained upon arrival. Parent-child dyads were then asked to complete self-report questionnaires regarding their anxiety and depressive symptoms. Research assistants read questionnaires aloud to children and clarified any questions to ensure understanding. Then, children and parents completed the passive viewing task examining their neurophysiological responses to emotional stimuli for the electroencephalogram (EEG) session. Participants sat in a comfortable chair in a dimly lit and sound-attenuated room, and electrodes were affixed to the scalp of the child and the parent. Participants were instructed to passively view 90 emotional pictures displayed on the screen while EEG signals were recorded. To reduce any effects of dyadic interactions on one’s emotional responses, the parent was not in the room when the child was completing the task, and vice versa. The entire visit lasted 3 h. Families received 500 RMB (approximately 73 USD) for the lab visit.


Child anxiety symptoms

Children reported on their anxiety symptoms using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorder [58]. The scale is composed of 41 items rated on a 3-point Likert scale (1 = almost never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often). The SCARED Total score is calculated by summing all 41 items, and a higher total score indicates higher child anxiety symptoms. The original SCARED has satisfactory psychometric properties [58], and the Chinese version also shows test-retest reliability and good internal consistency [59]. Furthermore, it has been reported to be robust in both clinical and community samples [60, 61]. For current study, the SCARED showed good reliability (α = 0.88).

Child depressive symptoms

Child depressive symptoms were assessed with the 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies in Depression Scale (CES-D; [62]). Children reported on their depressive symptoms over the previous week on a 4-point Likert scale: 1 = rarely or none of the time (less than 1 day), 2 = some or a little of the time (1–2 days), 3 = occasionally or a moderate amount of time (3–4 days), and 4 = most or all of the time (5–7 days). Total scores range from 20 to 80, with higher scores indicating higher levels of depressive symptoms. The original CES-D is well established [62] and has been utilized as a reliable and valid measure of Chinese children’s depressive symptoms [63]. The internal consistency of the CES-D in the current study was α = 0.82.

Parental anxiety and depressive symptoms

Parents completed the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R; [64]) to report on psychopathological symptoms experienced over the previous week. Parents respond on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely). For the purposes of the current study, the 10-item Anxiety subscale and the 13-item Depression subscale were used. Items were summed and T scores were computed, with higher scores indicating higher distress. The SCL-90-R has well-established reliability and validity [64] and has been validated with Chines samples [65]. In the current study, the internal consistencies for the anxiety and depression subscales were α = 0.92 and α = 0.89, respectively.

Passive viewing task

The passive viewing task occurred after EEG set up. A total of 90 developmentally appropriate pictures were selected from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS; [66]). Of these, 30 depicted unpleasant scenes (e.g., airplane crashes, threatening animals), 30 depicted pleasant scenes (e.g., cute animals and babies), and 30 depicted neutral scenes (e.g., natural scenery, household objects)Footnote 1. Stimuli were presented using the EEGLAB software toolbox for MATLAB. Thirty pictures were randomly selected for each experimental block over a total of 3 blocks. Each picture was randomly presented once and occupied the entire 14.1” screen. Each trial began with an instruction (“Simply view these pictures”) for 2000 ms, then each picture was presented for 4500 ms followed by a fixation point (“+”) for 500 ms.

EEG recording and data reduction

The continuous electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded throughout the passive viewing task using a Neuroscan Synamp2 Amplifier. Recordings were taken from 64 cap-mounted Ag/AgCl electrodes (10/20 system). The electrooculogram (EOG) generated from eye blinks and movements was recorded from four electrodes: two electrodes attached to the outer canthus of each eye to monitor the horizontal EOG and two electrodes placed approximately 1 cm above and below the left eye to monitor the vertical EOG. The EEG was sampled at 500 Hz. The impedance of all electrodes was maintained below 5 kΩ. All EEG signals were referenced to the left mastoid and were bandpass filtered at 0.05–100 Hz during data collection.

Offline analysis was performed using Neuroscan4.3 software. All data were rereferenced to the average of the left and right mastoids and bandpass filtered with cutoffs at 0.1 and 30 Hz. Eyeblinks were corrected offline using a regression procedure [67]. Data were segmented for each trial, beginning 300 ms before and continuing 3500 ms after each picture onset. ERPs were baseline corrected using the 300 ms prior to the stimulus. The semiautomated artifact removal procedure excluded any segment with voltage steps exceeding ± 100 µV from further analyses. Additional artifacts were detected using visual inspection. Three dyads were excluded from the analyses because of excessive artifacts (averaged rejected epochs more than 50%).

Based on a visual inspection and previous work [14, 34, 68], the LPP was computed as the mean amplitude of the EEG in a 500–1000 ms time window. The LPP was then averaged in three regions: posterior (Pz, P3, P4, Oz, O1, O2), central (Cz, C3, C4, CPz, CP3, CP4), and anterior (Fz, F3, F4, FCz, FC3, FC4).

Data analyses

First, repeated-measures analyses of variance (ANOVA) were conducted in SPSS 21.0 to evaluate the LPP across each picture type (i.e., unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral pictures). Greenhous-Geisser corrections were applied when assumptions of sphericity were violated. Post hoc multiple comparisons were conducted using the Bonferroni correction. Effect sizes were measured as partial eta-squared (\({\eta }_{p}^{2}\)). Second, the descriptive statistics and correlations among parent-child LPP amplitudes and anxiety and depressive symptoms, and possible group differences based on demographic characteristics were reported using SPSS 21.0.

Finally, the Actor-Partner Interdependence Models (APIM; [69]) was employed in Mplus 7.0 to investigate the effects of parental and child anxiety and depressive symptoms on their own (i.e., intrapersonal) and their partner’s (i.e., interpersonal) LPP responses to unpleasant and pleasant pictures compared to neutral pictures. The APIM is well-suited for analyzing dyadic data as it accounts for the non-independence of the data within the actor-partner interdependence model [69]. We aimed to investigate the separate and independent impacts of anxiety and depression on children’s and their parents’ neural responses to emotional stimuli, and thus, two APIMs were utilized: one model predicted LPP responses to pleasant and unpleasant stimuli relative to neutral stimuli based on children’s and parents’ anxiety levels, while the other model predicted LPP amplitudes with depression levels as the predictor variable (see Fig. 1). Given the number of comparisons (total analyses = 2), the Bonferroni correction was implemented to decrease the likelihood of Type I errors (α = 0.025). Missing data were handled with the full-information maximum likelihood.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The APIM model of the intra- and inter-personal impacts of anxiety and depression on parents’ and children’s LPP responses to pleasant and unpleasant pictures compared to neutral pictures

Note. The intra-personal effects included the child actor effect (cA) and the parent actor effect (pA), while the inter-personal effects included the child partner effect (cP) and the parent partner effect (pP)


LPP amplitudes of children and parents

Two 3 (picture type) × 3 (region) repeated-measure ANOVAs were performed separately for parents and children. With respect to children, significant main effects were found for picture type, F (2, 50) = 11.25, p < .001, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\)= 0.31 (see Fig. 2). Unpleasant and pleasant pictures elicited larger LPPs than neutral pictures (mean difference = 2.58, 95% CI = [0.78, 4.37], p = .003 for unpleasant pictures; mean difference = 2.69; 95% CI = [1.06, 4.32], p < .001 for pleasant pictures). Main effects were also found for region (F (2, 50) = 8.79, p = .003, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\)= 0.26); the LPP in the central region was significantly larger than that in the anterior region (mean difference = 3.20; 95% CI = [1.91, 4.48], p < .001). There was no interaction between picture type and region (F (4, 100) = 0.72, p = .58, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\) = 0.03).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Child LPP waveforms for unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral pictures at posterior, central, and anterior regions

For parents, the results revealed main effects of picture type (F (2, 62) = 33.68, p < .001, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\)= 0.52) and region (F (2, 62) = 31.43, p < .001, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\)= 0.50) which were qualified by an interaction between picture type and region (F (4, 124) = 4.85, p < .001, \({ \eta }_{p}^{2}\) = 0.14; see Fig. 3). Bonferroni pairwise post hoc comparisons indicated that LPP amplitudes in response to both unpleasant and pleasant pictures were significantly larger than those to neutral pictures (mean difference = 2.68; 95% CI = [1.47, 3.88], p < .001 for unpleasant pictures; mean difference = 2.98; 95% CI = [2.18, 3.79], p < .001 for pleasant pictures). The LPP amplitudes in the anterior and central regions were significantly larger than those in the posterior region (mean difference = 1.94; 95% CI = [1.11, 2.77], p < .001 for the anterior region; mean difference = 1.70; 95% CI = [1.10, 2.30], p < .001 for the central region). Furthermore, post hoc tests demonstrated that LPP amplitudes elicited by both unpleasant and pleasant pictures were significantly larger than those elicited by neutral pictures in the anterior, central, and posterior regions (p < .001 for all comparisons).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Parental LPP waveforms for unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral pictures at posterior, central, and anterior regions

Taken together, the results above indicated that for children and parents, unpleasant and pleasant pictures generated larger LPP amplitudes compared to neutral pictures. The LPP appeared to be the largest in the central region for the children and in the central and anterior regions for the parents. Furthermore, it has been reported that LPP amplitudes appear to be more evident at centroparietal sites following emotional versus neutral stimuli [13, 23, 34]. Given these reasons, we focused on the LPP amplitudes at the central regions to test the effects of parental and child psychopathological symptoms. Difference scores were calculated by the relative responses to unpleasant and pleasant compared to neutral pictures (i.e., ∆LPP), with larger LPP difference scores indicating greater LPP amplitudes to emotional stimuli.

Parent-child anxiety and depression and the LPP

Descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations between study variables were showed in Table 1. Results demonstrated that the mean score for child anxiety symptoms was 58.06 (SD = 10.18, range = 42–79), while the mean score for child depressive symptoms was 30.97 (SD = 7.86, range = 20 − 3). In addition, the mean score for parent anxiety symptoms was 49.17 (SD = 10.66, range = 41–90), and the mean score for parent depressive symptoms was 52.06 (SD = 10.42, range = 39–92). The results of the bivariate correlation analysis indicated that child depressive symptoms were positively related to their enhanced unpleasant (r = .58, p = .003) and pleasant ∆LPP (r = .49, p = .018). Child anxiety symptoms were marginally correlated with their enhanced unpleasant (r = .37, p = .071) and pleasant ∆LPP (r = .36, p = .077), and their parents’ enhanced unpleasant (r = .33, p = .074) and pleasant ∆LPP (r = .34, p = .070).

Table 1 Descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations among study variables

We also tested the influences of demographic factors on study variables. Child age was negatively associated with their pleasant ∆LPP (r = − .48, p = .013). Independent sample t-tests demonstrated that there were child gender differences on their unpleasant ∆LPP (t (34) = 2.08, p = .046) and on their parents’ depressive symptoms (t (32) = -2.11, p = .043). Specifically, for boys, unpleasant pictures produced larger LPP amplitudes compared to neutral pictures. Boys’ parents self-reported lower depressive symptoms. However, parental age and gender was not significantly correlated with any study variables. Thus, children’s age and gender were included in the regression as covariates.

Intrapersonal and interpersonal impacts of anxiety symptoms

For the model with parental and child anxiety symptoms predicting both pleasant and unpleasant ∆LPP, the model fit the data, χ2 (4) = 3.41, p = .49, CFI = 1.000, TLI = 1.043, RMSEA = 0.001. Results (see Table 2) indicated that children’s anxiety symptoms were positively associated with their pleasant ∆LPP (β = 0.441, SE = 0.170, p = .010). Moreover, children anxiety symptoms were positively correlated with their parents’ pleasant ∆LPP (β = 0.440, SE = 0.162, p = .007) and their parents’ unpleasant ∆LPP (β = 0.440, SE = 0.145, p = .002). These significant associations remained significant even after accounting for multiple testing using the Bonferroni correction.

Table 2 APIM Analyses with Parental and Child Anxiety Symptoms Predicting ΔLPP

Intrapersonal and interpersonal impacts of depressive symptoms

For the model with parental and child depressive symptoms predicting both pleasant and unpleasant ∆LPP, the model fit the data, χ2 (4) = 5.81, p = .21, CFI = 0.974, TLI = 0.857, RMSEA = 0.075. As shown in Table 3, children’s depressive symptoms were related to their increased unpleasant ∆LPP (β = 0.53, SE = 0.07, p = .001). Moreover, this significant association survived the Bonferroni correction for multiple testing. However, parental and child depressive symptoms did not relate to their own and their partners’ LPP amplitudes to pleasant compared to neutral pictures (see Table 3).

Table 3 APIM Analyses with Parental and Child Depressive Symptoms Predicting ΔLPP


This study expanded the existing literature by examining the intra- and inter-personal impacts of anxiety and depressive symptoms on neural responses to emotional stimuli within parent-child dyads. This work is needed to refine existing cognitive and family models of anxiety and depression and identify potentially malleable targets for intervention. The results revealed that, on the intrapersonal level, community children’s (but not parents’) anxiety symptoms were associated with their increased LPPs to pleasant stimuli. Children’s depressive symptoms related to their enhanced processing of unpleasant stimuli. Importantly, on the interpersonal level, we found important roles of children’s anxiety symptoms on their parents’ neural modulations of emotional information within families. Specifically, children’s anxiety symptoms were associated with their parents’ increased LPPs to both unpleasant and pleasant pictures compared to neutral ones.

The first goal of the present study was to investigate the neural correlates of anxiety and depressive symptoms and one’s own emotional processing in a sample of community parent-child dyads. Our hypotheses were partially confirmed, showing that children with higher levels of anxiety symptoms displayed more detailed processing of pleasant information, as indicated by greater LPP amplitudes to pleasant compared to neutral pictures. This finding supports the emotionality hypothesis (Mogg & Marden, 1990), demonstrating that anxious children exhibit heightened neural reactivity to emotional stimuli in general, rather than a specific thereat-bias. This expands upon existing knowledge concerning the association between anxiety and neural responses to emotional stimuli. Mush of the previous research on anxiety has focused on neural responses to negative emotions and has established a threat-related attentional bias [15, 16, 21, 22]. However, there is evidence, although limited, suggests that some types of anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder [70, 71] and high trait anxiety [72], may elicit one’s hypervigilance bias towards happy faces as well. However, no relation was found between children’s anxiety symptoms and their LPP responses to unpleasant pictures, raising the possibility that anxious children’s attentional biases to unpleasant stimuli can be most clearly understood by matching specific anxieties with relevant stimuli [73].

In addition, we found that children with higher depressive symptoms displayed more sustained attention to the unpleasant information, as indicated by greater LPP amplitudes to unpleasant compared to neutral pictures. Literature has been mixed regarding depression and emotional reactivity to unpleasant stimuli, with some studies supporting enhanced LPPs [40, 42], and others supporting attenuated LPPs to unpleasant information [41, 43]. The current study adds to the literature linking depressive symptoms to increased LPPs to unpleasant stimuli. It may be the differences in experimental paradigms among studies (e.g., emotion interrupt task, self-referential task, and emotional oddball task) that make it difficult to generalize their findings. Future studies are needed to verify the influences of different experimental paradigms on the correlates of depressive symptoms and neurophysiological responses to emotional stimuli.

However, no significant relationship was found between parent-child depressive symptoms and the LPP responses to pleasant pictures. This result was unexpected given most of previous studies have reported decreased attention to pleasant information in depression [19, 33, 34]. This inconsistency may relate to methodological differences among studies, such as whether pleasant and unpleasant stimuli are intermingled in the same blocks or presented in separate blocks [72]. The current study, aligned with previous work [11, 15, 30], intermingled unpleasant pictures with pleasant pictures in the same blocks, which might reduce the emotional modulation effects for pleasant information. In this setting, the negative emotions elicited by unpleasant pictures may undermine or override the positive emotional experiences from pleasant pictures. Indeed, our study, as well as that conducted by McLean et al. [30], employed identical experimental design, and both investigations revealed no significant correlation between depression and LPP responses to either pleasant or unpleasant stimuli.

Guided by family systems theory [46], the main goal of the current study was to explore whether one’s anxiety and depressive symptoms were related to their parents’ or children’s emotional modulation of LPPs to emotional stimuli in parent-child dyads. Results demonstrated support for the interpersonal effects of child anxiety symptoms on parents’ LPPs, indicating that children’s anxiety symptoms were associated with elevated LPP responses to pleasant and unpleasant pictures in their parents. This finding was consistent with the hypotheses guided by family systems theory [46]. Particularly, children are not passive respondents to parenting, parental characteristics, and family functioning. Children can play an active role in shaping parental functioning and well-being [74]. It may be that a child’s anxiety symptoms increase his or her parent’s conscientiousness and concern. In turn, parents tend to be vigilant to their children’s emotions and view the child’s emotions as an opportunity for emotional coaching [75, 76]. Another possibility is that sustained attention towards pleasant stimuli is an emotion regulation strategy of parents of children with higher levels of anxiety [70]. Parents who have been exposed to higher levels of child anxiety may consciously allocate their attention to positive cues in the environment to mitigate unpleasant emotional experiences elicited by their children. This finding extends the current literature on attentional bias by showing that within a family that is characterized by a relatively low-risk context (i.e., community-based families), parents of children with more anxiety symptoms exhibit hypervigilance towards emotional stimuli.

Of note, previous research on interpersonal effects has primarily focused on emotional processing in the offspring of anxious parents [48, 50]. For instance, Nelson et al. found that 13-15-year-old children exposed to parental anxiety, especially fear disorders, exhibited heightened LPP responses to unpleasant stimuli [48], which provided support for the hypervigilance hypothesis of anxiety [20, 26]. The current study extends the hypervigilance model of anxiety by suggesting that, similar to children of parents with anxiety, parents of children with greater levels of anxiety symptoms might contribute to their approach motivation and global engagement to emotional information as assessed by the LPP.

Contrary to predictions, parental anxiety and depressive symptoms had no direct influence on their own or their children’s LPPs to emotional pictures. This finding was inconsistent with some previous studies [33, 51, 77]. One potential explanation for this discrepancy is that many of these previous studies have been limited to clinical adult samples [77], whereas we focus on a community adult sample. Possibly, in our community sample, parents with subclinical levels of psychopathology fail to potentiate their own or their children’s dysregulated neural responses to emotional stimuli than their counterparts presenting with clinical levels of disorders [48]. In addition, this discrepancy may also be due to the age-related attenuation in emotional processing. It is assumed that due to the greater efficiency and regulatory control that come with brain maturation, typically developing individuals may exhibit an age-related attenuation of the LPP amplitudes to emotional information [78, 79]. Thus, parents in our community-based sample may have already developed adequate levels of effortful control to reduce the processing of emotional stimuli, leading to no significant relation between symptoms and LPP amplitudes to emotional stimuli. Regardless, this study represents an important step towards identifying risk processes that underlie psychopathology symptoms. More work is needed to either support or refute the current findings and to identify when in the symptom severity continuum such deficits are evidenced.


There are several limitations that should be considered when interpreting our findings. First, although the sample size was large enough to detect LPP responses to emotional stimuli, it was relatively small for the APIM analyses that we used. Studies with more participants are warranted to replicate our preliminary findings. Additionally, in the current study, anxiety and depressive symptoms were highly correlated with each other. As anxiety and depression might frequently co-occur and share etiological causes [80], it was difficult to disentangle their independent influences on emotional processing. Future research is encouraged to explore the potential differences between pure and comorbid psychopathology groups.


Despite the limitations above, this study contributes to cognitive and family models of anxiety and depression and further highlight the importance of implementing interventions targeted to alleviate psychopathological symptoms, especially for children with subclinical levels of psychopathology. The results further suggest that novel approaches to intervention consider the dyad-level aimed at facilitating healthy emotional processing in children and their caregivers.


This study investigated the reciprocal impacts of anxiety and depressive symptoms on the LPP within community-based parent-child dyads. Results indicated that children’s anxiety symptoms correlated with their enhanced LPPs to pleasant compared to neutral stimuli. In addition, children’s depressive symptoms were associated with their decreased LPP responses to unpleasant relative to neutral information. Furthermore, consistent with the hypotheses of family systems theory [46], parents’ modulations of their LPPs were influenced by their children’s anxiety symptoms, that is child anxiety symptoms related to parental enhanced LPPs to both unpleasant and pleasant stimuli.

Data Availability

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. The contact information of the corresponding author is Hui Wang,


  1. The numbers of IAPS numbers used were: unpleasant (1050, 1120, 1201, 1300, 1321, 1930, 2120, 2130, 2688, 2780, 2810, 2900, 3022, 3230, 3280, 5970, 6190, 6300, 6370, 7380, 9050, 9250, 9421, 9470, 9480, 9490, 9582, 9594, 9600, 9611); neutral (5220, 5711, 5740, 5750, 5800, 5820, 7000, 7002, 7004, 7006, 7009, 7010, 7025, 7031, 7035, 7041, 7050, 7080, 7090, 7100, 7140, 7150, 7175, 7190, 7224, 7233, 7235, 7236, 7595, 7950); pleasant (1460, 1463, 1601, 1610, 1710, 1750, 1811, 1920, 1999, 2070, 2091, 2165, 2224, 2311, 2340, 2345, 2791, 4603, 5831, 7325, 7330, 7400, 7502, 8031, 8330, 8380, 8461, 8490, 8496, 8620).



Late positive potential


  1. Barker MM, Beresford B, Bland M, Fraser LK. Prevalence and incidence of anxiety and depression among children, adolescents, and young adults with life-limiting conditions: a systematic review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(9):835.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. Gudmundsen GR, Rhew IC, McCauley E, Kim J, Vander Stoep A. Emergence of depressive symptoms from kindergarten to Sixth Grade. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2019;48(3):501–15.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Rudenstine S, Espinosa A. Latent comorbid depression and anxiety symptoms across sex and race/ethnic subgroupings in a national epidemiologic study. J Psychiatr Res. 2018;104:114–23.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Cummings EM, Keller PS, Davies PT. Towards a family process model of maternal and paternal depressive symptoms: exploring multiple relations with child and family functioning. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005;46(5):479–89.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bomhof-Roordink H, Seldenrijk A, van Hout HPJ, van Marwijk HWJ, Diamant M, Penninx BWJH. Associations between life stress and subclinical cardiovascular disease are partly mediated by depressive and anxiety symptoms. J Psychosom Res. 2015;78(4):332–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Cuijpers P, Sijbrandij M, Koole S, Huibers M, Berking M, Andersson G. Psychological treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2014;34(2):130–40.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Flückiger C, Del Re AC, Munder T, Heer S, Wampold BE. Enduring effects of evidence-based psychotherapies in acute depression and anxiety disorders versus treatment as usual at follow-up–A longitudinal meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2014;34(5):367–75.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Clark DA, Beck AT, Alford BA. Scientific foundations of cognitive theory and therapy of depression. John Wiley & Sons; 1999.

  9. Cisler JM, Koster EHW. Mechanisms of attentional biases towards threat in anxiety disorders: an integrative review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(2):203–16.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Gotlib IH, Joormann J. Cognition and depression: current status and future directions. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2010;6(1):285–312.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Hajcak G, Dennis TA. Brain potentials during affective picture processing in children. Biol Psychol. 2009;80(3):333–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. MacNamara A, Kotov R, Hajcak G. Diagnostic and Symptom-Based predictors of emotional Processing in generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder: an event-related potential study. Cogn Ther Res. 2016;40(3):275–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cuthbert BN, Schupp HT, Bradley MM, Birbaumer N, Lang PJ. Brain potentials in affective picture processing: covariation with autonomic arousal and affective report. Biol Psychol. 2000;52(2):95–111.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Foti D, Hajcak G. Deconstructing reappraisal: descriptions preceding arousing pictures modulate the subsequent neural response. J Cogn Neurosci. 2008;20(6):977–88.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Solomon B, DeCicco JM, Dennis TA. Emotional picture processing in children: an ERP study. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2012;2(1):110–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. MacNamara A, Hajcak G. Distinct electrocortical and behavioral evidence for increased attention to threat in generalized anxiety disorder. Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(3):234–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Burkhouse KL, Woody ML, Owens M, Gibb BE. Influence of worry on sustained attention to emotional stimuli: evidence from the late positive potential. Neurosci Lett. 2015;588:57–61.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Schwab D, Schienle A. Facial affect processing in social anxiety disorder with early onset: evidence of an intensity amplification bias. Soc Neurosci. 2018;13(3):318–27.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Grunewald M, Döhnert M, Brandeis D, Klein AM, von Klitzing K, Matuschek T, et al. Attenuated LPP to Emotional Face Stimuli Associated with parent- and self-reported depression in children and adolescents. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2019;47(1):109–18.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Eysenck MW. Anxiety: the cognitive perspective. Taylor & Francis; 1992.

  21. Kujawa A, MacNamara A, Fitzgerald KD, Monk CS, Phan KL. Enhanced neural reactivity to threatening faces in anxious youth: evidence from event-related potentials. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2015;43(8):1493–501.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. MacNamara A, Proudfit GH. Cognitive load and emotional processing in generalized anxiety disorder: Electrocortical evidence for increased distractibility. J Abnorm Psychol. 2014;123(3):557–65.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. MacNamara A, Hajcak G. Anxiety and spatial attention moderate the electrocortical response to aversive pictures. Neuropsychologia. 2009;47(13):2975–80.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Somerville LH, Kim H, Johnstone T, Alexander AL, Whalen PJ. Human amygdala responses during presentation of happy and neutral faces: correlations with state anxiety. Biol Psychiatry. 2004;55(9):897–903.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Straube T, Mentzel HJ, Miltner WHR. Common and distinct brain activation to threat and safety signals in Social Phobia. Neuropsychobiology. 2005;52(3):163–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Mogg K, Marden B. Processing of emotional information in anxious subjects. Br J Clin Psychol. 1990;29(2):227–9.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Bunford N, Kujawa A, Swain JE, Fitzgerald KD, Monk CS, Phan KL. Attenuated neural reactivity to happy faces is associated with rule breaking and social problems in anxious youth. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;26(2):215–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Burkhouse KL, Woody ML, Owens M, Gibb BE. Influence of worry on sustained attention to emotional stimuli: evidence from the late positive potential. Neurosci Lett. 2015;588:57–61.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Weinberg A, Perlman G, Kotov R, Hajcak G. Depression and reduced neural response to emotional images: distinction from anxiety, and importance of symptom dimensions and age of onset. J Abnorm Psychol. 2016;125(1):26–39.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. McLean MA, Van den Bergh BRH, Baart M, Vroomen J, van den Heuvel MI. The late positive potential (LPP): a neural marker of internalizing problems in early childhood. Int J Psychophysiol. 2020;155:78–86.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Clark LA, Watson D, Mineka S. Temperament, personality, and the mood and anxiety disorders. J Abnorm Psychol. 1994;103(1):103–16.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Rottenberg J, Gross JJ, Gotlib IH. Emotion context insensitivity in major depressive disorder. J Abnorm Psychol. 2005;114(4):627–39.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Benning SD, Ait Oumeziane B. Reduced positive emotion and underarousal are uniquely associated with subclinical depression symptoms: evidence from psychophysiology, self-report, and symptom clusters. Psychophysiolo. 2017;54(7):1010–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Mardaga S, Iakimova G. Neurocognitive processing of emotion facial expressions in individuals with self-reported depressive symptoms: the role of personality and anxiety. Neurophysiol Clin Neurophysiol. 2014;44(5):447–55.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Klawohn J, Burani K, Bruchnak A, Santopetro N, Hajcak G. Reduced neural response to reward and pleasant pictures independently relate to depression. Psychol Med. 2021;51(5):741–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Whalen DJ, Gilbert KE, Kelly D, Hajcak G, Kappenman ES, Luby JL, et al. Preschool-onset major depressive disorder is characterized by Electrocortical deficits in Processing Pleasant emotional pictures. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol. 2020;48(1):91–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Ke T, Wu J, Willner CJ, Brown Z, Banz B, Van Noordt S, et al. The glass is half empty: negative self-appraisal bias and attenuated neural response to positive self-judgment in adolescence. Soc Neurosci. 2020;15(2):140–57.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Levinson AR, Speed BC, Hajcak G. Neural response to Pleasant Pictures Moderates prospective relationship between stress and depressive symptoms in adolescent girls. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2019;48(4):643–55.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Clark LA, Watson D. Tripartite model of anxiety and depression: psychometric evidence and taxonomic implications. J Abnorm Psychol. 1991;100(3):316–36.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Jaworska N, Blier P, Fusee W, Knott V. The temporal electrocortical profile of emotive facial processing in depressed males and females and healthy controls. J Affect Disord. 2012;136(3):1072–81.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Foti D, Olvet DM, Klein DN, Hajcak G. Reduced electrocortical response to threatening faces in major depressive disorder. Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(9):813–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Auerbach RP, Stanton CH, Proudfit GH, Pizzagalli DA. Self-referential processing in depressed adolescents: a high-density event-related potential study. J Abnorm Psychol. 2015;124(2):233–45.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  43. Kessel EM, Kujawa A, Dougherty LR, Hajcak G, Carlson GA, Klein DN. Neurophysiological Processing of emotion in children of mothers with a history of Depression: the moderating role of Preschool Persistent Irritability. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2017;45(8):1599–608.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. Beardslee WR, Gladstone TRG, O’Connor EE. Transmission and Prevention of Mood Disorders among children of Affectively Ill parents: a review. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011;50(11):1098–109.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Nivard MG, Dolan CV, Kendler KS, Kan KJ, Willemsen G, van Beijsterveldt CEM, et al. Stability in symptoms of anxiety and depression as a function of genotype and environment: a longitudinal twin study from ages 3 to 63 years. Psychol Med. 2015;45(5):1039–49.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Bowen M. Family therapy in clinical practice. Jason Aronson; 1993.

  47. James KM, Owens M, Woody ML, Hall NT, Gibb BE. Parental expressed emotion-criticism and neural markers of sustained attention to emotional faces in children. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018;47(sup1):520–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Nelson BD, Perlman G, Hajcak G, Klein DN, Kotov R. Familial risk for distress and fear disorders and emotional reactivity in adolescence: an event-related potential investigation. Psychol Med. 2015;45(12):2545–56.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  49. Speed BC, Nelson BD, Auerbach RP, Klein DN, Hajcak G. Depression risk and electrocortical reactivity during self-referential emotional processing in 8 to 14 year-old girls. J Abnorm Psychol. 2016;125(5):607.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  50. van den Heuvel MI, Henrichs J, Donkers FCL, Van den Bergh BRH. Children prenatally exposed to maternal anxiety devote more attentional resources to neutral pictures. Dev Sci. 2018;21(4):e12612.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. Kujawa A, Hajcak G, Torpey D, Kim J, Klein DN. Electrocortical reactivity to emotional faces in young children and associations with maternal and paternal depression: Electrocortical reactivity to emotional faces. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2012;53(2):207–15.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Hails KA, Reuben JD, Shaw DS, Dishion TJ, Wilson MN. Transactional Associations among maternal depression, parent–child coercion, and Child Conduct problems during early childhood. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018;47(sup1):291–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Rutherford HJV, Wallace NS, Laurent HK, Mayes LC. Emotion regulation in parenthood. Dev Rev. 2015;36:1–14.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. Factor RS, Swain DM, Scarpa A. Child autism spectrum disorder traits and parenting stress: the utility of using a physiological measure of parental stress. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018;48(4):1081–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Finzi-Dottan R, Triwitz YS, Golubchik P. Predictors of stress-related growth in parents of children with ADHD. Res Dev Disabil. 2011;32(2):510–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Kayser J, Tenke CE, Abraham KS, Alschuler DM, Alvarenga JE, Skipper J, et al. Motivated attention and family risk for depression: neuronal generator patterns at scalp elicited by lateralized aversive pictures reveal blunted emotional responsivity. NeuroImage Clin. 2017;14:692–707.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  57. Household report of urban Chinese families. China Bureau of Statistics. 2021. Accessed 25 Mar 2023.

  58. Birmaher B, Brent DA, Chiappetta L, Bridge J, Monga S, Baugher M. Psychometric Properties of the screen for child anxiety related Emotional Disorders (SCARED): a replication study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999;38(10):1230–6.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. Su L, Wang K, Fan F, Su Y, Gao X. Reliability and validity of the screen for child anxiety related emotional disorders (SCARED) in chinese children. J Anxiety Disord. 2008;22(4):612–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. Muris P, Merckelbach H, Schmidt H, Tierney S. Disgust sensitivity, trait anxiety and anxiety disorders symptoms in normal children. Behav Res Ther. 1999;37(10):953–61.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. Muris P, Steerneman P, Merckelbach H, Holdrinet I, Meesters C. Comorbid anxiety symptoms in children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders. J Anxiety Disord. 1998;12(4):387–93.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. Radloff LS, The CES-D, Scale. A self-report Depression Scale for Research in the General Population. Appl Psychol Meas. 1977;1(3):385–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Yao S, Zou T, Zhu X, Abela JRZ, Auerbach RP, Tong X. Reliability and validity of the Chinese Version of the multidimensional anxiety scale for children among chinese secondary school students. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2007;38(1):1–16.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Derogatis LR. SCL-90-R: administration, scoring, and procedures manual. 3rd ed. National Computer Systems; 1994.

  65. Zhang ZJ. Handbook of behavioral medical scales. Chinese Medical Multimedia Press; 2005.

  66. Lang PJ, Bradley MM, Cuthbert BN. International affective picture system (IAPS): affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual. NIMH, Center for the Study of Emotion & Attention Gainesville, FL;; 2005.

  67. Semlitsch HV, Anderer P, Schuster P, Presslich O. A solution for Reliable and Valid reduction of ocular artifacts, Applied to the P300 ERP. Psychophysiology. 1986;23(6):695–703.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  68. Hua M, Han ZR, Chen S, Yang M, Zhou R, Hu S. Late positive potential (LPP) modulation during affective picture processing in preschoolers. Biol Psychol. 2014;101:77–81.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. Kenny DA, Kashy DA, Cook WL. Dyadic data analysis. Guilford Publications; 2020.

  70. Rossignol M, Philippot P, Douilliez C, Crommelinck M, Campanella S. The perception of fearful and happy facial expression is modulated by anxiety: an event-related potential study. Neurosci Lett. 2005;377(2):115–20.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. Waters AM, Mogg K, Bradley BP, Pine DS. Attentional bias for emotional faces in children with generalized anxiety disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2008;47(4):435–42.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. Morel S, George N, Foucher A, Chammat M, Dubal S. ERP evidence for an early emotional bias towards happy faces in trait anxiety. Biol Psychol. 2014;99:183–92.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  73. Pine DS, Klein RG, Mannuzza S, Moulton JL, Lissek S, Guardino M, et al. Face-emotion Processing in offspring at risk for panic disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2005;44(7):664–72.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  74. Elgar FJ, Curtis LJ, McGrath PJ, Waschbusch DA, Stewart SH. Antecedent-consequence conditions in maternal Mood and Child Adjustment: A Four-Year Cross-Lagged Study. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2003;32(3):362–74.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  75. Morris AS, Silk JS, Steinberg L, Myers SS, Robinson LR. The role of the Family Context in the development of emotion regulation. Soc Dev. 2007;16(2):361–88.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  76. Gottman JM, Katz LF, Hooven C. Meta-emotion: how families communicate emotionally. Routledge; 2013.

  77. Weinberg A, Hajcak G. Electrocortical evidence for vigilance-avoidance in generalized anxiety disorder: vigilance-avoidance in GAD. Psychophysiology. 2011;48(6):842–51.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. Dudeney J, Sharpe L, Hunt C. Attentional bias towards threatening stimuli in children with anxiety: a meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2015;40:66–75.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  79. MacNamara A, Vergés A, Kujawa A, Fitzgerald KD, Monk CS, Phan KL. Age-related changes in emotional face processing across childhood and into young adulthood: evidence from event-related potentials: age-related changes in ERPS to Faces. Dev Psychobiol. 2016;58(1):27–38.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. McElroy E, Fearon P, Belsky J, Fonagy P, Patalay P. Networks of depression and anxiety symptoms Across Development. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2018;57(12):964–73.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by Beijing Social Science Fund Project (21DTR030), the Start-up Fund of Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai (310432112), and the BIT Research and Innovation Promoting Project (2022YCXY053).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



RH designed and executed the study, and revised the paper. JY collaborated in the writing of the manuscript. XY and MG assisted with the data analyses. KW and CS collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. HW collected and analyzed the data, and wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hui Wang.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

All procedures were approved by the ethics committee of Beijing Normal University. All participants provided written informed consent.

Data transparency statement

The work described is original research that has not been published previously and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere, in whole or in part.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Han, Z.R., Yan, J., Yang, X. et al. The impacts of anxiety and depressive symptoms on emotional processing in children and their parents: an event-related potential study. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health 17, 58 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: