Cross-generational influences on childhood anxiety disorders: pathways and mechanisms

Eli R. Lebowitz, James F. Leckman, Wendy K. Silverman, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Anxiety disorders are common across the lifespan, cause severe distress and impairment, and usually have their onset in childhood. Substantial clinical and epidemiological research has demonstrated the existence of links between anxiety and its disorders in children and parents. Research on the pathways and mechanisms underlying these links has pointed to both behavioral and biological systems. This review synthesizes and summarizes several major aspects of this research. Behavioral systems include vicarious learning, social referencing, and modeling of parental anxiety; overly protective or critical parenting styles; and aspects of parental responses to child anxiety including family accommodation of the child’s symptoms. Biological systems include aspects of the prenatal environment affected by maternal anxiety, development and functioning of the oxytocinergic system, and genetic and epigenetic transmission. Implications for the prevention and treatment of child anxiety disorders are discussed, including the potential to enhance child anxiety treatment outcomes through biologically informed parent-based interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1053-1067
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Wien.


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthK23MH103555
National Center for Advancing Translational SciencesUL1TR001863


    • Anxiety disorders
    • Child
    • Genetics
    • Mother–child relations
    • Oxytocin


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