Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Temperamental Predictors of Anxiety Disorders

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Temperamental Predictors of Anxiety Disorders

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Temperament is a fundamental factor in psychological adjustment throughout development. The present paper explores the relation between temperament and the emergence of anxiety disorders in children and young adults. The paper focuses on two of the most prominent models in current temperament research - Kagan's model of behavioral inhibition and Rothbart's multidimensional model of reactivity and self-regulation, and discusses the main differences and points of convergence between them, with respect to assessment and behavioral/biological manifestations. Controversial issues and difficulties related to childhood anxiety disorders (diagnosis, forms of manifestation, comorbidity) are also analyzed. The major aim of this paper is to determine the degree of empirical support for temperament as a risk factor in the development of anxiety disorders, and the specificity of this support. Although straightforward conclusions are difficult to draw, due to the unbalanced representation of the two models in the literature (most of the research was conducted on behavioral inhibition) and the diversity of measurement methods and samples used, we consider that existing results are encouraging; they point to temperament as a promising area of investigation in the search for anxiety risk factors.

KEYWORDS: temperament, behavioral inhibition, childhood anxiety, development, risk factors

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the potential link between temperament and the risk for psychopathology. The question of whether some temperamental characteristics might predispose a person to develop an internalizing or externalizing disorder is relevant not only for theoretical, but also for practical reasons. Since temperament manifests itself early in life, and there are well-established temperament assessment tools, it might constitute a suitable target for preventive strategies. However, empirical studies, as well as conceptual analyses are still needed to rigorously delineate the two constructs (temperament and psychopathology) and their relations, as well as to clarify the degree of specificity that certain temperamental characteristics might have for predicting psychopathology, in particular anxiety. As it was shown in Pérez-Edgar and Fox (2005a), multiple sources and levels of analysis are critical for designing the full landscape of such a converging approach.

In this paper we focus on the connection between temperament and anxiety. A number of studies seem to have found evidence for quite a specific link between the temperament of behavioral inhibition, and anxiety disorders (e.g., Biederman et al., 2001; Hirshfeld-Becker et al., 2003). However, the different methods for identifying temperament and the diversity of instruments (especially when it comes to assessing psychopathology) make definite conclusions regarding the association between behavioral inhibition and anxiety rather premature. Taking into account these constraints, our review examines the degree to which temperament can be considered a relevant factor for the development of childhood and adult anxiety disorders. Although we acknowledge that potential moderators (e.g., parental environment) can play their part in shaping this relation, our goal is to circumscribe the data extant so far, indicating points of convergence and divergence between studies, and potential "gaps" in need of further research.

TEMPERAMENT ACROSS DEFINITIONS AND MODELS

Systematic interest in temperament is presumed to have its roots in ancient Greece, with Galen's "humoral" theory as probably the first attempt to link relatively consistent patterns of human behavior and emotion to biology. However, modern characterizations of temperament have emerged much later - after the middle of the 20th century - with the pioneering work of Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas (Thomas & Chess, 1977). Following their work, a variety of modern temperament models have emerged, integrating behavioral, cognitive and biological factors. …

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