Multidimensional Emotion Regulation Moderates the Relation Between Behavioral Inhibition at Age 2 and Social Reticence with Unfamiliar Peers at Age 4

  • Kelly A. SmithEmail author
  • Paul D. Hastings
  • Heather A. Henderson
  • Kenneth H. Rubin


Behavioral inhibition (BI), a temperament trait characterized by fear and wariness in novel situations, has been identified as a risk factor for later social reticence and avoidance of peer interactions. However, the ability to regulate fearful responses to novelty may disrupt the link between BI and socially reticent behavior. The present study examined how and whether both behaviorally-manifested and physiological indices of emotion regulation moderate the relation between BI and later social reticence. Participants in this study included 88 children followed longitudinally from ages 2 to 4. At age 2, children completed the BI Paradigm in which children's responses to novel objects and adults were observed. At age 4, children's baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was assessed and mothers reported on children's negative emotionality and soothability. Social reticence at age 4 was observed during a free play session with 3 unfamiliar peers. Results from saturated path models revealed a significant two-way interaction between BI and baseline RSA and a three-way interaction between BI, negative emotionality, and baseline RSA when predicting socially reticent behavior at age 4. At high levels of baseline RSA and high levels of negative emotionality, the association between BI and social reticence was negative. The relation between BI and later social reticence was only positive and significant at low levels of baseline RSA combined with high levels of negative emotionality. The results suggest that either strong physiological regulation or low negative emotionality seems sufficient to buffer inhibited young children against later social reticence.


Behavioral inhibition Emotion regulation Respiratory sinus arrhythmia Social reticence 



We are grateful to the participants for their involvement, and to the following individuals for their contributions to the research: Edna Abrahim, Matthew Barstead, Lynne Fenton, Daniela Hermann, Kerri Hogg, Loretta Lapa, Kelly Lemon, Jo-Anne McKinnon, Kevin McNichol, Carolyn Prinsen, Amy Rubin, Alice Rushing, Shannon Stewart, Steven Udvari, and Cherami Wischman.


The research reported in this manuscript was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Kenneth H. Rubin. Preparation of the manuscript was supported by Grant R01 MH103253 from the National Institutes of Health to Rubin.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Quantitative MethodologyUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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