Physiological and neuropsychological correlates of approach/withdrawal tendencies in preschool: Further examination of the behavioral inhibition system/behavioral activation system scales for young children

Clancy Blair, Rachel Peters, Doug Granger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This study examined a parent-report version of the Behavioral Inhibition System/Behavioral Activation System (BIS/BAS) scales, a measure of approach-withdrawal motivation, in 170 children between the ages of 3 to 5 years attending Head Start programs. Physiological measures included assessments of baseline salivary cortisol and change in cortisol in response to the assessment session, and resting and suppression estimates of cardiac vagal tone. Cognitive self-regulation was assessed with a peg-tapping measure of inhibitory control and an item-selection measure of cognitive set-shifting ability. Results indicated that higher level of parent-reported withdrawal motivation was associated with cortisol increase and that parent-reported approach motivation tended to be associated with cortisol decrease across the assessment session. Higher level of parent-reported withdrawal also was positively related to cognitive self-regulation while parent-reported approach was negatively related to cognitive self-regulation. Person-oriented analysis indicated that children characterized by both high level of approach and high level of withdrawal tended to exhibit lower resting vagal tone, higher initial cortisol, and minimal cortisol and vagal change. Overall, findings suggest that the parent-report version of the BIS/BAS scales works well as an indicator of children's reactivity to appetitive and aversive motivational stimuli. Directions for future research and implications of findings for the longitudinal study of temperament and personality are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-124
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 15 2004



  • Approach
  • Behavioral Inhibition and Behavioral Activation Scales
  • Cortisol
  • Temperament
  • Vagal tone
  • Withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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