NUI Galway Studies Pathways Of Worry Development Throughout Childhood

Apr 06 2016 Posted: 09:39 IST

NUI Galway study highlights the different pathways of normal development of worrisome thoughts in children and young adolescents, dependent on the child’s gender and pubertal status

A study carried out by researchers at NUI Galway found that while children at age 10 worry the most, young female adolescents at age 13, are most affected in performing daily activities due to worrisome thoughts, as published today (5 April) in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
Anxiety and worry is a normal part of childhood and adolescence, however, research observing children throughout childhood to evaluate the development of worrisome thoughts is lacking, and makes it difficult to distinguish between normal and pathological worrying patterns.

The study was carried out by Dr Line Caes at the School of Psychology & Centre for Pain Research at NUI Galway in collaboration with Professor Christopher Eccleston and Dr Emma Fisher both from the Centre for Pain Research at Bath University. The study investigated mothers’ perspectives on their child’s normal level of worry and impact on daily life from childhood to early adolescence.

The data for the study was extracted from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in which 2,227 mothers reported on their child's worry content, frequency, control, and emotional disruption when their child was aged 7, 10, and 13 years old. The researchers found that age 10 seems to be a pivotal age with respect to worries, with mothers reporting the highest level worry frequency at age 10 combined with a low ability to control those worries at this age.

However, the highest level of impact in performing daily activities due to worrisome thoughts was observed at age 13, particularly for girls. These findings suggest that parents may perceive the increased level of worries and the difficulty to control these worries when their children are 10 years of age as a normal part of growing up. However, early adolescence, especially for girls, might be a vulnerable time for the development and early identification of intrusive worries.

The child’s gender and pubertal status play a role in understanding how normal worry patterns develop from age 10 onwards, with advanced puberty at age 10 being associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.

The authors discussed the findings within a developmental framework outlining the normal development of worrisome thoughts, associated distress, and how it impacts on engaging in daily activities, throughout early adolescence. The study highlights that increased knowledge of typical worry patterns could help inform a better understanding of adolescence as a vulnerable time for the development of mental health problems, such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Commenting on the study, Dr Line Case from the School of Psychology at NUI Galway explains: “This study represents an exciting collaboration between NUI Galway and Bath University providing a new view on how children develop and how they are affected by a normal aspect of life, worry, depending on their developmental stage. These findings will help inform future research and policy on early detection and treatment of pathological levels of anxiety in childhood.”

The study is supported by Galway University Foundation and the Centre for Pain Research at NUI Galway. For further information on the data from ALSPAC visit:

To read the full paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology visit:


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