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Infant stranger fear trajectories predict anxious behaviors and diurnal cortisol rhythm during childhood

  • Carol A. Van Hulle (a1), Mollie N. Moore (a1), Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant (a2), H. Hill Goldsmith (a1) and Rebecca J. Brooker (a3)...

Although a robust literature has linked stable, high levels of fear across childhood to increased risk for anxiety problems, less is known about alternative pathways to anxiety. We tested two putatively normative developmental pathways of early fearfulness for their distinct associations with behavioral (anxiety-related behaviors and symptoms) and biological (diurnal cortisol) markers of anxiety risk in middle childhood in a community-based sample (n = 107). Steeper increases in fear from 6 to 36 months predicted more parent-reported anxiety symptoms at age 8 years. In addition, children who exhibited steep increases in fear during infancy were overrepresented among children with diagnoses of separation anxiety disorder at age 8 years. Finally, we showed that steeper increases in fearfulness in infancy predicted flatter slopes of diurnal cortisol at age 8 years for girls. Thus, differences in stranger fear across infancy may indicate varying degrees of risk for anxious behaviors in later childhood.

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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Carol Van Hulle, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705; E-mail:
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Data collection was supported by Grants R37 MH50560 (H.H.G., Principal Investigator) and R01 MH59785 (H.H.G. and K.L.-C., Principal Investigators) from the National Institute of Mental Health. The writing of this manuscript was partially supported by Grants T32 MH018931 (Program Director, Davidson), K01 MH100240 (R.J.B., Principal Investigator), and P50 MH100031 (Center Director, Davidson) from the National Institute of Mental Health. Infrastructure support was provided by the Waisman Center via P30 HD03352 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. We thank the families who participated in this study and the staff members who helped with the recruitment and data collection.

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