Relations between Behavioral Inhibition, Cognitive Control, and Anxiety: Novel Insights Provided by Parsing Subdomains of Cognitive Control



The temperament of behavioral inhibition (BI) is classically defined based on behavioral observations of a child’s fear and avoidance of novelty. Such behavioral observations have proven powerful in identifying individual differences in temperament, and such differences have been shown to be predictive of later developmental outcomes, particularly levels of shyness or anxiety. However, behavioral observations alone leave open several questions, including: (1) How does the brain of a child high in behavioral inhibition differ from a child low in behavioral inhibition? (2) Which domains of cognition are directly related to variation in behavioral inhibition? (3) For domains of cognition not directly related to behavioral inhibition, how do individual differences interact with behavioral inhibition to predict later risk for anxiety? Examining these questions, research has demonstrated that individual differences in the child’s ability to monitor and control their behaviors when trying to complete a goal, a set of processes known as “cognitive control,” may change the likelihood of a child high in behavioral inhibition developing later anxiety. However, relations between behavioral inhibition and cognitive control have been inconsistent across studies. Here, we leverage a cognitive neuroscience framework to review studies that have investigated the interrelations between behavioral inhibition, cognitive control, and anxiety. Critically, we separate cognitive control into the subdomains of “monitoring” and “control instantiation” as well as further parse control instantiation based on domain and time course. In making these distinctions, we show that there is consistent evidence that the behavioral inhibition phenotype is directly related to increased monitoring, but not levels of control instantiation. However, behavioral inhibition is related to the time course of control, and both monitoring and control interact with behavioral inhibition to predict increased risk for the development of anxiety. We suggest that continued progress in understanding the interrelations between behavioral inhibition and cognitive control will require a similar framework that separates cognitive control into subdomains.


Behavioral inhibition Anxiety Response monitoring Cognitive control Inhibitory control Error related negativity 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Development & Quantitative MethodologyUniversity of Maryland – College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Quantitative MethodologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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