Connecting Childhood Wariness to Adolescent Social Anxiety through the Brain and Peer Experiences

  • Johanna M. JarchoEmail author
  • Hannah Y. Grossman
  • Amanda E. Guyer
  • Megan Quarmley
  • Ashley R. Smith
  • Nathan A. Fox
  • Ellen Leibenluft
  • Daniel S. Pine
  • Eric E. Nelson


Wariness in early childhood manifests as shy, inhibited behavior in novel social situations and is associated with increased risk for developing social anxiety. In youth with childhood wariness, exposure to a potent social stressor, such as peer victimization, may potentiate brain-based sensitivity to unpredictable social contexts, thereby increasing risk for developing social anxiety. To test brain-based associations between early childhood wariness, self-reported peer victimization, and current social anxiety symptoms, we quantified neural responses to different social contexts in low- and high-victimized pre-adolescents with varying levels of early childhood wariness. Measures of early childhood wariness were obtained annually from ages 2-to-7-years. At age 11, participants were characterized as having low (N = 20) or high (N = 27) peer victimization. To index their neural responses to peer evaluation, participants completed an fMRI-based Virtual School paradigm (Jarcho et al. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 21–31, 2013a). In highly victimized, relative to low-victimized participants, wariness was differentially related to right amygdala response based on the valence and predictability of peer evaluation. More specifically, in highly victimized participants, wariness was associated with greater right amygdala response to unpredictably positive peer evaluation. Effects of wariness were not observed in participants who reported low levels of victimization. Moreover, in victimized participants, high wariness and right amygdala response to unpredictably positive peer evaluation was associated with more severe social anxiety symptoms. Results can be interpreted using a diathesis-stress model, which suggests that neural response to unexpectedly positive social feedback is a mechanism by which exposure to peer victimization potentiates the risk for developing social anxiety in individuals exhibiting high levels of early childhood wariness.


Shyness Peer feedback Neuroimaging Anxiety Adolescence Bullying 



We thank Olga Walker, Kay Vause, and Kaylee Seddio from NAF’s research team, for preparing the longitudinal data. This work was supported in part by funds from the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health (to D. S. Pine), the NARSAD Young Investigator award: Ellen Schapiro & Gerald Axelbaum Investigator (22441), Richard J. Wyatt Memorial Fellowship Award for Translational Research NICHD grant (R21HD093912) and Stony Brook University Department of Psychology (to J. M. Jarcho), William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award (180021) and NIMH grants (R00MH080076 and R01MH098370 to A. E. G.), NICHD (R37HD17899) and NIMH (R01MH093349) grants (to N. A. Fox).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this research.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed assent and parental consent was obtained for all participants in this study.

Supplementary material

10802_2019_543_MOESM1_ESM.docx (37 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johanna M. Jarcho
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hannah Y. Grossman
    • 2
  • Amanda E. Guyer
    • 3
    • 4
  • Megan Quarmley
    • 1
  • Ashley R. Smith
    • 5
  • Nathan A. Fox
    • 6
  • Ellen Leibenluft
    • 5
  • Daniel S. Pine
    • 5
  • Eric E. Nelson
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Counseling, School, and Educational PsychologyUniversity of BuffaloStony BrookUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  4. 4.Center for Mind and BrainUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  5. 5.National Institute of Mental Health, Emotion and Development BranchBethesdaUSA
  6. 6.Department of Human Development and Quantitative MethodologyUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  7. 7.Center for Biobehavioral HealthNationwide Children’s HospitalColumbusUSA

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