Individual differences in fear potentiated startle in behaviorally inhibited children

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Abstract

Behavioral inhibition (BI) is a temperament characterized during early childhood by increased fearfulness to novelty, social reticence to unfamiliar peers, and heightened risk for the development of anxiety. Heightened startle responses to safety cues have been found among behaviorally inhibited adolescents who have an anxiety disorder suggesting that this measure may serve as a biomarker for the development of anxiety amongst this risk population. However, it is unknown if these aberrant startle patterns emerge prior to the manifestation of anxiety in this temperament group. The current study examined potentiated startle in 7-year-old children characterized with BI early in life. High behaviorally inhibited children displayed increased startle magnitude to safety cues, particularly during the first half of the task, and faster startle responses compared to low behaviorally inhibited children. These findings suggest that aberrant startle responses are apparent in behaviorally inhibited children during early childhood prior to the onset of a disorder and may serve as a possible endophenotype for the development of anxiety. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 56: 133–141, 2014.

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