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Associations between expressed emotion and child behavioral inhibition and psychopathology: a pilot study.

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  • 1Psychiatry Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.



To examine the relationship between behavioral inhibition and child psychopathology and measures of family adversity indexed through "expressed emotion."


Maternal expressed emotion was assessed via Five-Minute-Speech-Sample in two samples of children evaluated for prevalence of DSM-III disorders and assessed via laboratory observations for behavioral inhibition. The at-risk sample (N = 30) consisted of 4- to 10-year-old children of mothers with and without panic disorder (psychiatric controls). The Kagan sample (N = 41) consisted of children selected at age 21 months as behaviorally inhibited or uninhibited and followed through age 11.


In the at-risk sample, child behavioral inhibition was associated with high/borderline maternal criticism, independent of other measures of child psychopathology. In both samples combined, high/borderline maternal criticism was associated with child externalizing symptoms and with the number of child mood and behavior disorders. Emotional overinvolvement was significantly associated with child separation anxiety disorder in the at-risk sample.


Results suggest that child behavioral inhibition may be associated with maternal criticism/dissatisfaction and confirm other reports of associations between criticism and child behavior and mood disorders and between emotional overinvolvement and child separation anxiety.

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