Behavioral inhibition and anxiety: The moderating roles of inhibitory control and attention shifting

Lauren K. White, Jennifer Martin McDermott, Kathryn A. Degnan, Heather A. Henderson, Nathan A. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

120 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-747
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Anxiety
  • Attention shifting
  • Behavioral inhibition
  • Inhibitory control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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