In humans and other animals, behavioral responses to threatening stimuli are an important component of temperament. Among children, extreme behavioral inhibition elicited by novel situations or strangers predicts the subsequent development of anxiety disorders and depression. Genetic differences among children are known to affect risk of developing behavioral inhibition and anxiety, but a more detailed understanding of genetic influences on susceptibility is needed. Nonhuman primates provide valuable models for studying the mechanisms underlying human behavior. Individual differences in threat-induced behavioral inhibition (freezing behavior) in young rhesus monkeys are stable over time and reflect individual levels of anxiety. This study used the well-established human intruder paradigm to elicit threat-induced freezing behavior and other behavioral responses in 285 young pedigreed rhesus monkeys. We examined the overall influence of quantitative genetic variation and tested the specific effect of the serotonin transporter promoter repeat polymorphism. Quantitative genetic analyses indicated that the residual heritability of freezing duration (behavioral inhibition) is h(2) = 0.384 (P = 0.012) and of 'orienting to the intruder' (vigilance) is h(2) = 0.908 (P = 0.00001). Duration of locomotion and hostility and frequency of cooing were not significantly heritable. The serotonin transporter polymorphism showed no significant effect on either freezing or orienting to the intruder. Our results suggest that this species could be used for detailed studies of genetic mechanisms influencing extreme behavioral inhibition, including the identification of specific genes that are involved in predisposing individuals to such behavior.