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Behavioral Inhibition and Child Anxiety

Behavioral inhibition is defined as a trait characterized by shy, withdrawn, uneasy, vigilant, and restrained behavior.

Di Jeffrey Pella

Pubblicato il 24 Feb. 2012

Aggiornato il 01 Ago. 2012 14:44


In the next series of installments I will be discussing the concept, importance, course, prevalence and relation of behavioral inhibition (BI) to social phobia.

Behavioral Inhibition and Child Anxiety - Immagine: © dannywilde - Fotolia.com - Garcia-Coll, Kagan and Reznick (1984) define behavioral inhibition as a trait characterized by shy, withdrawn, uneasy, vigilant, and restrained behavior in the context of unfamiliar social or non social situations; in the same situations uninhibited children act spontaneously and confidently (Kagan, 1988). The prevalence rate of BI is estimated at 15% in two year old Caucasian children (Kagan, 1989). The link between BI and anxiety disorders has been a focus of much research. Many studies have examined the persistence of BI and, in particular, the link between it and the development of social phobia.

Research has examined the course and persistence of BI. Kagan, Reznick, Snidman, Gibbons and Johnson (1988) used a longitudinal design to assess the social development of behaviorally inhibited (n = 22) and uninhibited children (n = 19). At 21 months of age BI was assessed in a laboratory setting, and at seven and a half years the children’s behavioral profile was assessed. There was significant continuity from 21 months to seven and a half years of age. Thus, children who were labeled inhibited became more quiet and socially avoidant in unfamiliar situations than uninhibited children; uninhibited children became more talkative and interactive in these situations than inhibited children.

Parents' words and anxiety disorders
Related installment: Parents' words and Anxiety Disorders.

Asendorpf (1991) observed 87 children in free play sessions at four, six and eight years of age. The children’s main care giver completed questionnaires regarding their children’s behavior at each time point. The free play sessions were recorded and children’s behavior was later coded. The results showed that with an increase in age, early inhibited children spent longer periods in solitary-passive activity then uninhibited children. Children with an early uninhibited temperament spent more time engaged in social behavior than inhibited children as they became older.

From these two studies we have learned that behavioral inhibition is prevalent and common in children of younger ages, those children that shown inhibited behaviors in the early months of life also continue to demonstrate these behaviors into later childhood. In the installment I will examine the relationship between BI and social phobia.




  • Asendorpf, J. B. (1991). Development of inhibited children‟s coping with unfamiliarity. Child Development, 62, 1460 – 1474.
  • Garcia-Coll, C., Kagan, J., & Reznick, J. S. (1984). Behavioral inhibition in young children. Child Development, 55, 1005 – 1019.
  • Kagan, J. (1989). Temperamental contributions to social behavior. American Psychologist, 44, 666 – 674.
  • Kagan, J., Reznick, J.S., Snidman, N., Gibbons, J., & Johnson, M.O. (1988). Childhood derivatives of inhibition lack of inhibition to the unfamiliar. Child Development, 59, 1580 – 1589.
  • Kagan, J., Snidman, N., Kahn, V., & Towsley, S. (2007). The preservation of two infant temperaments into adolescence. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. No, 287. Blackwell. Boston.
Si parla di:
Jeffrey Pella
Jeffrey Pella

DOCTOR OF PSYCHOLOGY PhD in Psychology, University of Reading

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