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Abstract

Despite implications that stranger fear is an important aspect of developing behavioral inhibition, a known risk factor for anxiety, normative and atypical developmental trajectories of stranger fear across infancy and toddlerhood remain understudied. We used a large, longitudinal data set (= 1285) including multi-trait, multi-method assessments of temperament to examine the normative course of development for stranger fear and to explore the possibility that individual differences exist in trajectories of stranger fear development between 6 and 36 months of age. A latent class growth analysis suggested four different trajectories of stranger fear during this period. Stable, high levels of stranger fear over time were associated with poorer RSA suppression at 6 months of age. Rates of concordance in trajectory-based class membership for identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic) twins, along with associations between atypical stranger fear development and greater anxiety-related maternal characteristics, suggested that individual differences in developmental trajectories of stranger fear may be heritable. Importantly, trajectories of stranger fear during infancy and toddlerhood were linked to individual differences in behavioral inhibition, with chronically high levels of stranger fear and sharp increases in stranger fear over time related to greater levels of inhibition than other developmental trajectories.