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Prospective Association between Childhood Behavioral Inhibition and Anxiety: a Meta-Analysis

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Andrea Sandstrom, Rudolf Uher, Barbara Pavlova
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-019-00588-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Behavioral inhibition (BI) is a risk factor for anxiety. However, the estimates of the strength of this association vary widely. In addition, while BI is a strong predictor of social anxiety disorder (SAD), its association with other anxiety disorders is unclear. The current study sought to establish the relationship between BI and anxiety and to quantify this association for a range of anxiety disorders. We searched PsycInfo, PubMed and Embase for articles published before May 18th, 2019 using search terms for BI, anxiety and prospective study design. We selected articles which assessed the prospective relationship between BI in childhood and anxiety. Using random-effects meta-analysis with robust variance estimation, which allowed for the inclusion of multiple follow-ups of the same sample, we established the association between BI and any anxiety. We also explored the association between BI and individual anxiety disorders. Data from 27 studies consisting of 35 follow-ups of 20 unique samples indicated that BI prospectively increases the odds of anxiety (OR = 2.80, 95% CI 2.03 to 3.86, p < 0.001). There was also a positive association between BI and all individual anxiety disorders, with effect sizes ranging from small in the case of specific phobia (OR = 1.49, 95% CI 1.03 to 2.14, p = 0.03) to large in the case of SAD (OR = 5.84, 95% CI 3.38 to 10.09, p < 0.001). BI in early childhood is a strong risk factor for anxiety. Targeting BI may help reduce the number of children who will develop anxiety disorders.

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