Developmental pathways to social anxiety and irritability: The role of the ERN

Dev Psychopathol. 2020 Aug;32(3):897-907. doi: 10.1017/S0954579419001329.


Early behaviors that differentiate later biomarkers for psychopathology can guide preventive efforts while also facilitating pathophysiological research. We tested whether error-related negativity (ERN) moderates the link between early behavior and later psychopathology in two early childhood phenotypes: behavioral inhibition and irritability. From ages 2 to 7 years, children (n = 291) were assessed longitudinally for behavioral inhibition (BI) and irritability. Behavioral inhibition was assessed via maternal report and behavioral responses to novelty. Childhood irritability was assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist. At age 12, an electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while children performed a flanker task to measure ERN, a neural indicator of error monitoring. Clinical assessments of anxiety and irritability were conducted using questionnaires (i.e., Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders and Affective Reactivity Index) and clinical interviews. Error monitoring interacted with early BI and early irritability to predict later psychopathology. Among children with high BI, an enhanced ERN predicted greater social anxiety at age 12. In contrast, children with high childhood irritability and blunted ERN predicted greater irritability at age 12. This converges with previous work and provides novel insight into the specificity of pathways associated with psychopathology.

Trial registration: NCT00018057.

Keywords: ERN; behavioral inhibition; developmental pathways; irritability; psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Irritable Mood

Associated data