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Attention to novelty in behaviorally inhibited adolescents moderates risk for anxiety


  • Conflict of interest statement: Dr. Chronis-Tuscano has received support from Ortho-McNeil-Janssen. The other authors report no conflicts of interest.

Bethany C. Reeb-Sutherland, Department of Human Development, 3304 Benjamin Building, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA; Tel: 301-405-2834; Fax: 301-405-2891; Email:


Background:  Individual differences in specific components of attention contribute to behavioral reactivity and regulation. Children with the temperament of behavioral inhibition (BI) provide a good context for considering the manner in which certain components of attention shape behavior. Infants and children characterized as behaviorally inhibited manifest signs of heightened orienting to novelty. The current study considers whether this attention profile moderates risk for clinical anxiety disorders among adolescents with a history of BI.

Methods:  Participants were assessed at multiple time points for BI, beginning in early childhood. At adolescence, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded during a three-stimulus auditory novelty oddball task, which employed frequent standard and infrequent deviant tones as well as a set of complex, novel sounds. Clinical diagnosis was carried out using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children-Present and Lifetime Version (K-SADS-PL). P3 and mismatch negativity (MMN) components were examined at midline frontal, central, and parietal electrode sites.

Results:  Individuals who displayed high levels of BI during childhood and increased P3 amplitude to novelty in adolescence were more likely to have a history of anxiety disorders compared to behaviorally inhibited adolescents with lower P3 amplitudes. Groups did not differ on measures of MMN.

Conclusions:  Increased neural responses to novelty moderate risk for anxiety disorders amongst individuals with a history of BI.