Enduring influence of early temperament on neural mechanisms mediating attention-emotion conflict in adults

Johanna M. Jarcho, Nathan A. Fox, Daniel S. Pine, Ellen Leibenluft, Tomer Shechner, Kathryn A. Degnan, Koraly Perez-Edgar, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Behavioral inhibition, a temperament identified in early childhood, is often associated with dysregulated attention and affective processing, particularly in response to threat. Longitudinal studies find that the manifestation of perturbed attention and affective processing often dissipates with age. Yet, childhood behavioral inhibition continues to predict perturbed brain function into adulthood. This suggests that adults with childhood behavioral inhibition may engage compensatory processes to effectively regulate emotion-related attention. However, it is unknown whether perturbations in brain function reflect compensation for attention bias to emotional stimuli generally, or to threatening contexts more specifically. The present study tests these possibilities. Methods Adults with and without a history of stable childhood behavioral inhibition completed an attention-control task in the context of threatening and nonthreatening stimuli while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants were asked to identify the gender of fearful (threatening) and happy (nonthreatening) faces, while ignoring both the face emotion and overlaid congruent (low attention control, LAC) or incongruent (high attention control, HAC) gender words. Results When fearful faces were present, adults with stable childhood behavioral inhibition exhibited more activity in striatum, cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for HAC trials compared with LAC trials, relative to those without behavioral inhibition. When happy faces were present, the opposite activation pattern emerged. No group differences in behavior were observed. Conclusions Among adults, stable childhood behavioral inhibition predicts neural, but not behavioral, responding when attention control is engaged in discrete emotional contexts. This suggests a mechanism by which adults may compensate for the behavioral manifestation of threat-based attention biases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-62
Number of pages10
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • anxiety
  • attention
  • emotions
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • personality
  • risk factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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