The Rituals, Fears and Phobias of Young Children: Insights from Development, Psychopathology and Neurobiology


This study examined the relationship between ritualistic, compulsive-like behaviors and normative fears and phobias in 61 children ranging from 1 to 7 years of age. Parents reported on their children's ritualistic habits, and perfectionistic behaviors that reflect what we have previously called “compulsive-like” behaviors. Parents also reported on their children's fears and phobias. Results indicated that various aspects of children's ritualistic and compulsive-like behaviors are correlated with children's fears and phobias. Developmental differences existed such that younger children's (< 4 years) repetitive, compulsive-like behaviors were related to “prepotent” fears such as stranger and separation anxieties, whereas the compulsive-like behaviors of older children (> 4 years) were correlated with more specific, “contextual” fears such as fears of contamination, death, and fears often associated with concerns of the inner city such as burglars, assault, etc. These findings are discussed in terms of the phenomenologic and possible neurobiological continuities between normative and pathologic rituals, fears and phobias.

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Evans, D.W., Gray, F.L. & Leckman, J.F. The Rituals, Fears and Phobias of Young Children: Insights from Development, Psychopathology and Neurobiology. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 29, 261–276 (1999).

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  • Children
  • Obsessive-Compulsive
  • Rituals
  • Fear