Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 735–747 | Cite as

Behavioral Inhibition and Anxiety: The Moderating Roles of Inhibitory Control and Attention Shifting

  • Lauren K. WhiteEmail author
  • Jennifer Martin McDermott
  • Kathryn A. Degnan
  • Heather A. Henderson
  • Nathan A. Fox


Behavioral inhibition (BI), a temperament identified in early childhood, is associated with social reticence in childhood and an increased risk for anxiety problems in adolescence and adulthood. However, not all behaviorally inhibited children remain reticent or develop an anxiety disorder. One possible mechanism accounting for the variability in the developmental trajectories of BI is a child’s ability to successfully recruit cognitive processes involved in the regulation of negative reactivity. However, separate cognitive processes may differentially moderate the association between BI and later anxiety problems. The goal of the current study was to examine how two cognitive processes—attention shifting and inhibitory control—laboratory assessed at 48 months of age moderated the association between 24-month BI and anxiety symptoms in the preschool years. Results revealed that high levels of attention shifting decreased the risk for anxiety problems in children with high levels of BI, whereas high levels of inhibitory control increased this risk for anxiety symptoms. These findings suggest that different cognitive processes may influence relative levels of risk or adaptation depending upon a child’s temperamental reactivity.


Behavioral inhibition Inhibitory control Attention shifting Anxiety 


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Ruffle, T. M. (2000). The Child Behavior Checklist and related forms for assessing behavioral/emotional problems and competencies. Pediatrics in Review, 21(8), 265–271.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple Regression: testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Bar-Haim, Y., Fox, N. A., Benson, B., Guyer, A. E., Williams, A., Nelson, E. E., et al. (2009). Neural correlates of reward processing in adolescents with a history of inhibited temperament. Psychological Science, 20(8), 1009–1018. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02401.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Biederman, J., Rosenbaum, J. F., Hirshfeld, D. R., Faraone, S. V., Bolduc, E. A., Gersten, M., et al. (1990). Psychiatric correlates of behavioral inhibition in young children of parents with and without psychiatric disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 47(1), 21–26.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Block, J. H., & Block, J. (1980). The role of ego-control and ego-resiliency in the organization of behavior. In W. A. Collins (Ed.), The Minnesota Symposia on child psychology, Vol. 13 (pp. 39–101). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  6. Calkins, S. D., Fox, N. A., & Marshall, T. R. (1996). Behavioral and physiological antecedents of inhibited and uninhibited behavior. Child Development, 67(2), 523–540. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01749.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlson, S. M. (2005). Developmentally sensitive measures of executive function in preschool children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(2), 595–616. doi: 10.1207/s15326942dn2802_3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Carlson, S. M., & Moses, L. J. (2001). Individual differences in inhibitory control and children’s theory of mind. Child Development, 72(4), 1032–1053.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Carver, C. S. (2005). Impulse and constraint: perspectives from personality psychology, convergence with theory in other areas, and potential for integration. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(4), 312–333. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Chronis-Tuscano, A., Degnan, K. A., Pine, D. S., Perez-Edgar, K., Henderson, H. A., Diaz, Y., et al. (2009). Stable early maternal report of behavioral inhibition predicts lifetime social anxiety disorder in adolescence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(9), 928–935. doi: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181ae09dfS0890-8567(09)60148-9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Degnan, K. A., & Fox, N. A. (2007). Behavioral inhibition and anxiety disorders: multiple levels of a resilience process. Developmental Psychopathology, 19(3), 729–746. doi: 10.1017/S0954579407000363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Derryberry, D., & Rothbart, M. K. (1988). Arousal, affect, and attention as components of temperament. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(6), 958–966. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.55.6.958.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Derryberry, D., & Rothbart, M. K. (1997). Reactive and effortful processes in the organization of temperament. Developmental Psychopathology, 9(4), 633–652. doi: 10.1017/S0954579497001375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Diamond, A., Barnett, W. S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318(5855), 1387–1388. doi: 10.1126/science.1151148.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Eisenberg, N., Shepard, S. A., Fabes, R. A., Murphy, B. C., & Guthrie, I. K. (1998). Shyness and children’s emotionality, regulation, and coping: contemporaneous, longitudinal, and across-context relations. Child Development, 69(3), 767–790. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06242.x.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Guthrie, I. K., & Reiser, M. (2002). The role of emotionality and regulation in children’s social competence and adjustment. In L. P. A. Caspi (Ed.), Paths to successful development: Personality in the life course (pp. 46–70). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eisenberg, N., Smith, C. L., Sadovsky, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (2004). Effortful control: Relations with emotion regulation, adjustment, and socialization in childhood. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (pp. 259–282). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  18. Eisenberg, N., Sadovsky, A., Spinrad, T. L., Fabes, R. A., Losoya, S. H., Valiente, C., et al. (2005). The relations of problem behavior status to children’s negative emotionality, effortful control, and impulsivity: concurrent relations and prediction of change. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 193–211. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.1.193.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Eisenberg, N., Valiente, C., Spinrad, T. L., Liew, J., Zhou, Q., Losoya, S. H., et al. (2009). Longitudinal relations of children’s effortful control, impulsivity, and negative emotionality to their externalizing, internalizing, and co-occurring behavior problems. Developmental Psychology, 45(4), 988–1008. doi: 10.1037/a0016213.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Fox, N. A., & Henderson, H. A. (2000). Temperament, emotion, and executive function: Influences on the development of self-regulation. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  21. Fox, N. A., Henderson, H. A., Rubin, K. H., Calkins, S. D., & Schmidt, L. A. (2001). Continuity and discontinuity of behavioral inhibition and exuberance: psychophysiological and behavioral influences across the first four years of life. Child Development, 72(1), 1–21. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00262.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Fox, N. A., Henderson, H. A., Marshall, P. J., Nichols, K. E., & Ghera, M. M. (2005). Behavioral inhibition: linking biology and behavior within a developmental framework. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 235–262.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Frye, D., Zelazo, P. D., & Palfai, T. (1995). Theory of mind and rule-based reasoning. Cognitive Development, 10, 483–527. doi: 10.1016/0885-2014(95)90024-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garon, N., Bryson, S. E., & Smith, I. M. (2008). Executive function in preschoolers: a review using an integrative framework. Psychological Bulletin, 134(1), 31–60. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.1.31.Google Scholar
  25. Gerardi-Caulton, G. (2000). Sensitivity to spatial conflict and the development of self-regulation in children 24–26 months of age. Developmental Science, 3(4), 397–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gerstadt, C. L., Hong, Y. J., & Diamond, A. (1994). The relationship between cognition and action: performance of children 3 1/2–7 years old on a Stroop-like day-night test. Cognition, 53(2), 129–153. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(94)90068-X.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Guyer, A. E., Nelson, E. E., Perez-Edgar, K., Hardin, M. G., Roberson-Nay, R., Monk, C. S., et al. (2006). Striatal functional alteration in adolescents characterized by early childhood behavioral inhibition. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(24), 6399–6405. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0666-06.2006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Hane, A. A., Fox, N. A., Henderson, H. A., & Marshall, P. J. (2008). Behavioral reactivity and approach-withdrawal bias in infancy. Developmental Psychology, 44(5), 1491–1496. doi: 10.1037/a0012855.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Henderson, H. A. (2010). Neural correlates of cognitive control and the regulation of shyness in children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35(2), 177–193. doi: 10.1080/87565640903526538.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kagan, J., & Fox, N. A. (2006). Biology, culture, and temperamental biases. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Social, emotional, and personality development (Vol. 3). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  31. Kagan, J., Reznick, J. S., Clarke, C., Snidman, N., & Garcia-Coll, C. (1984). Behavioral inhibition to the unfamiliar. Child Development, 55, 2212–2225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kagan, J., Reznick, J. S., & Snidman, N. (1987). The physiology and psychology of behavioral inhibition in children. Child Development, 58, 1459–1473.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Kieras, J. E., Tobin, R. M., Graziano, W. G., & Rothbart, M. K. (2005). You can’t always get what you want: effortful control and children’s responses to undesirable gifts. Psychological Science, 16(5), 391–396.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Lonigan, C. J., & Phillips, B. M. (2001). Temperamental basis of anxiety disorders in children. In M. W. Vasey & M. Dadds (Eds.), The developmental psychopathology of anxiety (pp. 60–91). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Lonigan, C. J., & Vasey, M. W. (2009). Negative affectivity, effortful control, and attention to threat-relevant stimuli. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37(3), 387–399. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9284-y.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Lonigan, C. J., Vasey, M. W., Phillips, B. M., & Hazen, R. A. (2004). Temperament, anxiety, and the processing of threat-relevant stimuli. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33(1), 8–20. doi: 10.1207/S15374424JCCP3301_2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. MacLeod, C., Rutherford, E., Campbell, L., Ebsworthy, G., & Holker, L. (2002). Selective attention and emotional vulnerability: assessing the causal basis of their association through the experimental manipulation of attentional bias. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(1), 107–123. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.111.1.107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. McDermott, J. M., & Fox, N. A. (2010). Exploring response-monitoring: Developmental differences and contributions to self-regulation. In R. H. Hoyle (Ed.), Handbook of self-regulation and personality (pp. 91–113). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McDermott, J. M., Perez-Edgar, K., Henderson, H. A., Chronis-Tuscano, A., Pine, D. S., & Fox, N. A. (2009). A history of childhood behavioral inhibition and enhanced response monitoring in adolescence are linked to clinical anxiety. Biological Psychiatry, 65(5), 445–448. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.10.043.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Miyake, A., Friedman, N., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “Frontal Lobe” tasks: a latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49–100. doi: 10.1006/cogp.1999.0734.Google Scholar
  41. Muris, P., Merckelbach, H., & Luijten, M. (2002). The connection between cognitive development and specific fears and worries in normal children and children with below-average intellectual abilities: a preliminary study. Behaviour Research Therapy, 40(1), 37–56. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7967(00)00115-7.
  42. Muris, P., Mayer, B., van Lint, C., & Hofman, S. (2008). Attentional control and psychopathological symptoms in children. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 1495–1505. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.01.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(3), 504–511. doi: 101037/10021-843X.109.3.504.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Perez-Edgar, K., & Fox, N. A. (2005). A behavioral and electrophysiological study of children’s selective attention under neutral and affective conditions. Journal of Cognition and Development, 6(1), 89–118. doi: 10.1207/s15327647jcd0601_6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Perez-Edgar, K., Fox, N. A., Bar-Haim, Y., Martin McDermott, J., & Pine, D. S. (2010). Attention bias to threat link behavioral inhibition in early childhood to adolescent social withdrawal. Emotion, 10(3), 349–357. doi: 10.1037/a0018486.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Posner, M. I., & Rothbart, M. K. (2000). Developing mechanisms of self-regulation. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 427–441. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400003096.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Price, R. B., & Mohlman, J. (2007). Inhibitory control and symptom severity in late life generalized anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(11), 2628–2639. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2007.06.007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Rothbart, M. K., & Rueda, M. R. (2005). The development of effortful control. In U. Mayr, E. Awh & S. Keele (Eds.), (pp. 167–188). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  49. Rothbart, M. K., & Sheese, B. E. (2007). Temperament and emotion regulation. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 331–350). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  50. Rothbart, M. K., Ziaie, H., & O’Boyle, C. G. (1992). Self-regulation and emotion in infancy. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 55, 7–23. doi: 10.1002/cd.23219925503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rothbart, M. K., Posner, M. I., & Hershey, K. L. (1995). Temperament, attention, and developmental psychopathology. In D. C. D. Cohen (Ed.), Developmental psychopathology: Vol. 2: Developmental neuroscience (2nd ed., pp. 465–501). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  52. Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., Hershey, K. L., & Fisher, P. (2001). Investigations of temperament at three to seven years: the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire. Child Development, 72(5), 1394–1408.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Rothbart, M. K., Ellis, L. K., Rueda, M. R., & Posner, M. I. (2003). Developing mechanisms of temperamental effortful control. Journal of Personality, 71, 1113–1143. doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.7106009.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Rueda, M. R., Rothbart, M. K., McCandliss, B. D., Saccomanno, L., & Posner, M. I. (2005). Training, maturation, and genetic influences on the development of executive attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(41), 14931–14936. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0506897102.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Schwartz, C. E., Snidman, N., & Kagan, J. (1999). Adolescent social anxiety as an outcome of inhibited temperament in childhood. [Article]. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(8), 1008–1015. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199908000-00017.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Thorell, L., Bohlin, G., & Rydell, A. (2004). Two types of inhibitory control: predictive relations to social functioning. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28(3), 193–203. doi: 10.1080/01650250344000389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wechsler, D. (2002). WPPSI-III administration and scoring manual. San Antonio, TX.Google Scholar
  58. White, L. K., Helfinstein, S. M., Reeb-Sutherland, B. C., Degnan, K. A., & Fox, N. A. (2009). Role of attention in the regulation of fear and anxiety. Developmental Neuroscience, 31(4), 309–317. doi: 10.1159/000216542.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. White, L. K., Helfinstein, S. M., & Fox, N. A. (2010). Temperamental factors associated with the acquisition of information processing biases and anxiety. In J. A. Hadwin & A. P. Field (Eds.), Information processing biases and anxiety: A developmental perspective. Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  60. Zelazo, P. D. (2006). The dimensional change card sort (DCCS): a method of assessing executive function in children. Nature Protocols, 1, 297–301. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2006.46.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren K. White
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer Martin McDermott
    • 2
  • Kathryn A. Degnan
    • 1
  • Heather A. Henderson
    • 3
  • Nathan A. Fox
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human DevelopmentUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations