Attention Mechanisms in Behavioral Inhibition: Exploring and Exploiting the Environment



Attention mechanisms may play a pivotal role in the emergence of socioemotional profiles. In the case of behavioral inhibition (BI), sensitivity to novelty, coupled with an attention bias to threat, may increase the risk for socially reticent behavior and anxiety. Early work suggests that behaviorally inhibited children may be more vigilant to novelty and threat in the environment, which then leads to behavioral avoidance. In addition, attention bias to threat, in particular, may moderate the relation between early behavioral inhibition and the later emergence of anxiety. However, we are only now examining how these early attentional processes act to shape observed outcomes. The current chapter speculates that attention mechanisms may lead behaviorally inhibited children to resort to habitual and inflexible repertoires for dealing with unfamiliar and unexpected environments. Thus, rather than explore new contexts, which may lead to new knowledge and reward, behaviorally inhibited children may instead exploit prior knowledge and behaviors, limiting their exposure to new experiences. The lack of new experiences, in turn, decreases the probability that behaviorally inhibited children will recognize that their initial fears and concerns are often unwarranted.


Behavioral inhibition Attention Anxiety Exploration and exploitation 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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