Skip to main content Accessibility help

Development of fear and guilt in young children: Stability over time and relations with psychopathology

  • Erika Baker (a1), Eugenia Baibazarova (a1), Georgia Ktistaki (a1), Katherine H. Shelton (a1) and Stephanie H. M. van Goozen (a1) (a2)...


Extremes in fearful temperament have long been associated with later psychopathology and risk pathways. Whereas fearful children are inhibited and anxious and avoid novel events, fearless individuals are disinhibited and more likely to engage in aggressive behavior. However, very few studies have examined fear in infants from a multimethod and prospective longitudinal perspective. This study had the following objectives: to examine behavioral, maternal reported, and physiological indices of fearful temperament in infancy, together with their relations and stability over time; and to establish whether early indices of fear predict fear later in toddlerhood. We also examined the association between behavioral and physiological measures of fear and guilt and whether fear in infancy predicts guilt in toddlers. Finally, we investigated infant risk factors for later psychopathology. We recorded skin conductance level (SCL) and heart rate (HR) and observed children's responses during a Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery fear paradigm across the first 3 years of life and during a guilt induction procedure at age 3 (N = 70). The results indicate that different measures of infant fear were associated across time. Observed fearlessness in infancy predicted observed fearlessness and low levels of SCL arousal to fear and guilt in toddlers. Low levels of HR and SCL to fear in infancy predicted low levels of physiological arousal to the same situation and to guilt 2 years later. Fear and guilt were significantly associated across measures. Finally, toddlers with clinically significant internalizing problems at age 3 were already notably more fearful in Year 1 as reflected by their significantly higher HR levels. The results indicated that assessments of children in infancy are predictive of how these children react 2 years later and therefore lend support to the idea that the emotional thermostat is set in the first 3 years of life. They also showed, for the first time, that infant fear is a predictor of guilt, which is an emotion that develops later. The implications of these findings for our understanding of developmental psychopathology are discussed.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stephanie van Goozen, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK; E-mail:


Hide All
Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2000). Manual for the ASEBA preschool forms and profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.
Ainsworth, M. D., Blehar, M. C., Watrers, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Barker, E. D., Oliver, B. R., Viding, E., Salekin, R. T., & Maughan, B. (2011). The impact of prenatal maternal risk, fearless temperament and early parenting on adolescent callous–unemotional traits: A 14-year longitudinal investigation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52, 878888.
Barrett, K. C. (1995). The origins of guilt in early childhood. In Bybee, J. (Ed.), Guilt and children (pp. 7590). New York: Academic Press.
Barrett, K. C., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Cole, P. M. (1993). Avoiders vs. amenders: Implications for the investigation of guilt and shame during toddlerhood? Cognition & Emotion, 7, 481505.
Bauer, A. M., Quas, J. A., & Boyce, W. T. (2002). Associations between physiological reactivity and children's behavior: Advantages of a multisystem approach. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23, 102113.
Biederman, J., Rosenbaum, J. F., Bolduc-Murphy, E. A., Faraone, S. V., Chaloff, J., Hirshfield, M. A., et al. (1993). A 3-year follow-up of children with and without behavioral inhibition. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 32, 814821.
Biederman, J., Rosenbaum, J. F., Hirshfield, D. R., & Faraone, S. V. (1990). Psychiatric correlates of behavioral inhibition in young children of parents with and without psychiatric disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 47, 2126.
Blair, R. J. R. (1997). Moral reasoning and the child with psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 731739.
Blandon, A. Y., Calkins, S. D., Keane, S. P., & O'Brien, M. (2010). Contributions of child's physiology and maternal behavior to children's trajectories of temperamental reactivity. Developmental Psychology, 46, 10891102.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.
Burgess, K. B., Marshall, P. J., Rubin, K. H., & Fox, N. A. (2003). Infant attachment and temperament as predictors of subsequent externalizing problems and cardiac physiology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 819831.
Buss, A. H., & Plomin, R. (1984). Temperament: Early developing personality traits. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Buss, K. A., Goldsmith, H. H., & Davidson, R. J. (2005). Cardiac reactivity is associated with changes in negative emotion in 24-month-olds. Developmental Psychobiology, 46, 118132.
Calkins, S. D., & Dedmon, S. E. (2000). Physiological and behavioral regulation in two-year-old children with aggressive/destructive behavior problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 103127.
Campos, J. J. (1976). Heart rate: A sensitive tool for the study of emotional development in the infant. In Lipsitt, L. P. (Ed.), Developmental psychobiology: The significance of infancy (pp. 134). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Cicchetti, D., & Gunnar, M. R. (2008). Integrating biological measures into the design and evaluation of preventive interventions. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 737743.
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (2009). The past achievements and future promises of developmental psychopathology: The coming of age of a discipline. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 50, 1625.
Colder, C. R., Mott, J. A., & Berman, A. S. (2002). The interactive effects of infant activity level and fear on growth trajectories of early childhood behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 123.
Cole, P. M., Barrett, K. C., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (1992). Emotion displays in two-year-olds during mishaps. Child Development, 63, 314324.
Damasio, A. R. (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 351, 14131420.
Denham, S., & Weissberg, R. P. (2004). Social–emotional learning in early childhood: What we know and where to go from here? In Chesebrough, E., King, P., Bloom, M., & Gulotta, T. P. (Eds.), A blueprint for prosocial behavior in early childhood. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press.
Derryberry, D., & Rothbart, M. K. (2001). Early temperament and emotional development. In Kalverboer, A. F. & Gramsbergen, A. (Eds.), Handbook of brain and behavior in human development (pp. 967988). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
Dienstbier, R. A. (1984). The role of emotion in moral socialization. In Izard, C., Kagan, J., & Zajonc, R. B. (Eds.), Emotions, cognitions and behavior (pp. 484513). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Edelberg, R. (1967). Methods in psychophysiology. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
Ferguson, T. J., Stegge, H., & Damhuis, I. (1991). Children's understanding of guilt and shame. Child Development, 62, 827839.
Ferguson, T. J., Stegge, H., Miller, E. R., & Olsen, M. E. (1999). Guilt, shame, and symptoms in children. Developmental Psychology, 35, 347357.
Fowles, D. C. (1994). A motivational theory of psychopathology. In Spaulding, W. (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 41. Integrated views of motivation and emotion (pp. 181228). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Fowles, D. C., & Kochanska, G. (2000). Temperament as a moderator of pathways to conscience in children: The contribution of electrodermal activity. Psychophysiology, 37, 788795.
Fowles, D. C., Kochanska, G., & Murray, K. (2000). Electrodermal activity and temperament in preschool children. Psychophysiology, 37, 777787.
Fox, N. A. (1989). Psychophysiological correlates of emotional reactivity during the first year of life. Developmental Psychology, 25, 364372.
Fracasso, M. P., Porges, S. W., Lamb, M. E., & Rosenberg, A. A. (1994). Cardiac activity in infancy: Reliability and stability of individual differences. Infant Behavior and Development, 17, 277284.
Frick, P. J. (2004). Integrating research on temperament and childhood psychopathology: Its pitfalls and promise. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 27.
Gao, Y., Raine, A., Venables, P. H., Dawson, M. E., & Mednick, S. A. (2010). Association of poor childhood fear conditioning and adult crime. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 5660.
Gartstein, M. A., & Rothbart, M. K. (2003). Studying infants temperament via the Revised Infant Behavior Questionnaire. Infant Behavior & Development, 26, 6486.
Goldsmith, H. H., & Rothbart, M. K. (1999). The Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery; Description of procedures. Locomotor version. Unpublished manuscript.
Gray, J. A. (1982). The neuropsychology of anxiety. London: Oxford University Press.
Harder, D. W. (1995). Shame and guilt assessment, and relationships of shame- and guilt-proneness to psychopathology. In Tangney, J. P. & Fischer, K. W. (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions the psychology of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride (pp. 368392). New York: Guilford Press.
Hernes, K. G., Mørkrid, L., Fremming, A., Ødegården, S., Martinsen, Ø. G., & Storm, H. (2002). Skin conductance changes during the first year of life in full-term infants. Pediatric Research, 52, 837843.
Hirshfield, D. R., Biederman, J., Brody, L., Faraone, S. V., & Rosenbaum, F. (1997). Expressed emotion toward children with behavioral inhibition: Association with maternal anxiety disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 910917.
Hirshfield-Becker, D. R., Biederman, J., Calltharp, S., Rosenbaum, E. D., Faraone, S. V., & Rosenbaum, J. F. (2003). Behavioral inhibition and disinhibition as hypothesized precursors to psychopathology: Implications for paediatric bipolar disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 53, 985999.
Hoffman, M. L. (1983). Affective and cognitive processes in moral internalization. In Higgins, E. T., Ruble, D., & Hartup, W. (Eds.), Social cognition and social development: A socio-cultural perspective (pp. 236274). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Izard, C. E. (1992). Basic emotions, relations among emotions, and emotion–cognition relations. Psychological Review, 99, 561566.
Kagan, J. (1982). Heart rate and heart rate variability as signs of temperamental dimension in infancy. In Izard, C. E. (Ed.), Measuring emotions in infants and children (pp. 3866). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kagan, J. (1984). The nature of the child. New York: Basic Books.
Kagan, J. (1994). Galen's prophecy: Temperament in human nature. New York: Basic Books.
Kagan, J. (1997). Temperament and the reactions to unfamiliarity. Child Development, 68, 139143.
Kagan, J. (1998). Biology and the child. In Damon, W. (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 117235). New York: Wiley.
Kagan, J., Reznick, S., Clarke, C., Snidman, N., & Garcia-Coll, C. (1984). Behavioral inhibition to the unfamiliar. Child Development, 55, 22122225.
Kagan, J., Reznick, S., & Snidman, N. (1987). The physiology and psychology of behavioral inhibition in children. Child Development, 58, 14591473.
Kim, J., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Longitudinal pathways linking child maltreatment, emotion regulation, peer relations, and psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 51, 706716.
Kochanska, G. (1991). Socialization and temperament in the development of guilt and conscience. Child Development, 62, 13791392.
Kochanska, G. (1993). Toward a synthesis of parental socialisation and child temperament in early development of conscience. Child Development, 64, 325347.
Kochanska, G. (2001). Emotional development in children with different attachment histories: The first three years. Child Development, 72, 474490.
Kochanska, G., Barry, R. A., Aksan, N., & Boldt, L. J. (2008). A developmental model of maternal and child contributions to disruptive conduct: The first six years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 49, 12201227.
Kochanska, G., Barry, R. A., Jimenez, N. B., Hollatz, A. L., & Woodard, J. (2009). Guilt and effortful control: Two mechanisms that prevent disruptive developmental trajectories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 322333.
Kochanska, G., Coy, K. C., Tjebkes, T. L., & Husarek, S. J. (1998). Individual differences in emotionality in infancy. Child Development, 69, 375390.
Kochanska, G., DeVet, K., Goldman, M., Murray, K., & Putnam, S. P. (1994). Maternal reports of conscience development and temperament in young children. Child Development, 65, 852868.
Kochanska, G., Gross, J. N., Lin, M. H., & Nichols, K. E. (2002). Guilt in young children: Development, determinants, and relations with a broader system of standards. Child Development, 73, 461482.
LeDoux, J. E. (1987). Emotion. In Plum, F. (Ed.), Handbook of physiology—The nervous system (Vol. 5, pp. 419459). Washington, DC: American Physiological Society.
Lemery, K. S., Goldsmith, H. H., Klinnert, M. D., & Mrazek, D. A. (1999). Developmental models of infant and childhood temperament. Developmental Psychology, 35, 189204.
Lewis, M., & Ramsey, D. S. (1999). Effect of maternal soothing on infant stress response. Child Development, 70, 1120.
Little, R. J. A., & Rubin, D. B. (1987). Statistical analysis with missing data (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley Interscience.
Loeber, R., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (1997). Development of juvenile aggression and violence. Some common misconceptions and controversies. American Psychologist, 53, 242259.
Lovallo, W. R. (1997). Stress and health: Biological and psychological interactions. Los Angeles: Sage.
Lykken, D. T. (1995). The antisocial personalities. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Nigg, J. T. (2006). Temperament and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 395422.
O'Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Weiss, J., & Gilbert, P. (2002). Guilt, fear, submission, and empathy in depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 71, 1927.
Pfeifer, M., Goldsmith, H. H., Davidson, R. J., & Rickman, M. (2002). Continuity and change in inhibited and uninhibited children. Child Development, 73, 14741485.
Provost, M. A., & Gouin-Decarie, T. (1979). Heart rate reactivity of 9- and 12-months old infants showing specific emotions in natural setting. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 2, 109120.
PsyLab. (2007). PSYLAB program. Retrieved from
Quay, H. C. (1965). Psychopathic personality as pathological stimulation seeking. American Journal of Psychiatry, 122, 180183.
Raine, A. (1993). The psychopathology of crime: Criminal behavior as a clinical disorder. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Raine, A., Venables, P. H., & Mednick, S. A. (1997). Low resting heart rate at age 3 years predisposes to aggression at age 11 years: Evidence from the Mauritius Child Health Project. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 14571464.
Rothbart, M. K. (1981). Measurement of temperament in infancy. Child Development, 52, 569578.
Rothbart, M. K., Ahadi, S. A., & Hershey, K. (1994). Temperament and social behavior in childhood. Merrill–Palmer Quarterly, 40, 2139.
Scarpa, A., Raine, A., Venables, P. H., & Mednick, S. A. (1997). Heart rate and skin conductance in behaviorally inhibited Mauritian children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 182190.
Schwartz, C. E., Snidman, N., & Kagan, J. (1999). Adolescent social anxiety as an outcome of inhibited temperament in childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 10081015.
Snoek, H., van Goozen, S. H. M., Matthys, W., Buitelaar, J. K., & van Engeland, H. (2004). Stress responsivity in children with externalizing behavior disorders. Development and Psychopathology, 16, 389406.
Strelau, J. (1998). Temperament: A psychological perspective. New York: Plenum Press.
Stuewig, J., Tangney, J. P., Heigel, C., Harty, L., & McCloskey, L. (2010). Shaming, blaming, and maiming: Functional links among the moral emotions, externalization of blame, and aggression. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 91102.
Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York: Guilford Press.
Tilghman-Osborne, C., Cole, D. A., & Felton, J. W. (2010). Definition and measurement of guilt: Implications for clinical research and practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 536546.
Van Bokhoven, I., Matthys, W., van Goozen, S. H. M., & van Engeland, H. (2005). Prediction of adolescent outcome in children with disruptive behavior disorders: A study of neurobiological, psychological and family factors. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 14, 153163.
van Goozen, S. H. M., Fairchild, G., Snoek, H., & Harold, G. T. (2007). The evidence for a neurobiological model of childhood antisocial behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 149182.
van Goozen, S. H. M., Matthys, W., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Buitelaar, J. K., & van Engeland, H. (2000). Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system activity in disruptive children and matched controls. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 14381445.
Weiss, G., & Hechtman, L. (1993). Hyperactive children grown up: ADHD in children, adolescents, and adults. New York: Guilford Press.
Zahn-Waxler, C., Kochanska, G., Krupnick, J., & McKnew, D. (1990). Patterns of guilt in children of depressed and well mothers. Developmental Psychology 26, 5159.

Development of fear and guilt in young children: Stability over time and relations with psychopathology

  • Erika Baker (a1), Eugenia Baibazarova (a1), Georgia Ktistaki (a1), Katherine H. Shelton (a1) and Stephanie H. M. van Goozen (a1) (a2)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed