Infant stranger fear trajectories predict anxious behaviors and diurnal cortisol rhythm during childhood.
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Although a robust literature has linked stable, high levels of fear across childhood to increased risk for anxiety problems, less is known about alternative pathways to anxiety. We tested two putatively normative developmental pathways of early fearfulness for their distinct associations with behavioral (anxiety-related behaviors and symptoms) and biological (diurnal cortisol) markers of anxiety risk in middle childhood in a community-based sample (n = 107). Steeper increases in fear from 6 to 36 months predicted more parent-reported anxiety symptoms at age 8 years. In addition, children who exhibited steep increases in fear during infancy were overrepresented among children with diagnoses of separation anxiety disorder at age 8 years. Finally, we showed that steeper increases in fearfulness in infancy predicted flatter slopes of diurnal cortisol at age 8 years for girls. Thus, differences in stranger fear across infancy may indicate varying degrees of risk for anxious behaviors in later childhood.