Fearful Temperament and the Risk for Child and Adolescent Anxiety: The Role of Attention Biases and Effortful Control

  • Ran LiuEmail author
  • Martha Ann Bell


Fearful temperament represents one of the most robust predictors of child and adolescent anxiety; however, not all children with fearful temperament unvaryingly develop anxiety. Diverse processes resulting from the interplay between automatic processing (i.e., attention bias) and controlled processing (i.e., effortful control) drive the trajectories toward more adaptive or maladaptive directions. In this review, we examine the associations between fearful temperament, attention bias, and anxiety, as well as the moderating effect of effortful control. Based on the reviewed literature, we propose a two-mechanism developmental model of attention bias that underlies the association between fearful temperament and anxiety. We propose that the sub-components of effortful control (i.e., attentional control and inhibitory control) play different roles depending on individuals’ temperaments, initial automatic biases, and goal priorities. Our model may help resolve some of the mixed findings and conflicts in the current literature. It may also advance our knowledge regarding the cognitive mechanisms linking fearful temperament and anxiety, as well as facilitate the continuing efforts in identifying and intervening with children who are at risk. Finally, we conclude the review with a discussion on the existing limitations and then propose questions for future research.


Fearful temperament Attention biases Effortful control Anxiety 



Preparation of this article was supported by Grant HD049878 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD or the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from every participant included in the study and from the participant’s parents or guardian in the case of minors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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