Exploring the stress sensitization theory with temperamentally inhibited children: a population-based study

Amy Brown, Joanna Bennet, Ronald M. Rapee, Dina R. Hirshfeld-Becker, Jordana K. Bayer*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    20 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: This study explored whether temperamentally inhibited children who experience early trauma are vulnerable to developing internalizing problems in the face of later life-stressors. Methods: A validated screen for temperamental inhibition was distributed to parents of young children attending preschools in six government regions of Melbourne, Australia. Screening identified 11% of children as inhibited (703 of 6347 screened) and eligible for a prevention study. Participants were 545 parents of inhibited preschoolers (78% uptake), of whom 84% were followed into mid childhood (age 7-10 years: wave 1, n = 446; wave 2, n = 427; wave 3, n = 426). Parents and children then completed questionnaires for child internalizing (anxious and depressive) symptoms, and parents received a diagnostic interview for child anxiety disorder. In mid-childhood parents also completed questionnaires annually to describe recent life-stressors experienced by their child, and any potentially traumatic events in the first four years of life. Results: Only one in 14 temperamentally inhibited children had experienced a potentially traumatic event in early childhood. In mid childhood 56% experienced recent life-stressors. Inhibited children who had early life trauma experienced slightly more anxiety disorder and symptoms in mid childhood. Those children with more recent life-stressors in mid childhood also had slightly more symptoms of anxiety and depression. In contrast to stress sensitization, inhibited children with early trauma plus recent stressors did not show especially high mid-childhood internalizing difficulties. Conclusions: Early life trauma and recent life-stressors each convey a small risk for children with an inhibited temperament to develop internalizing problems. Nevertheless, early life stress may not always result in negative sensitization for children in the general population.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number264
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalBMC Pediatrics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • child
    • internalizing problems
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • life-stressors


    Dive into the research topics of 'Exploring the stress sensitization theory with temperamentally inhibited children: a population-based study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this