Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Disinhibited social behavior among internationally adopted children

Jacqueline Brucea1 c1, Amanda R. Tarulloa2 and Megan R. Gunnara3

a1 Oregon Social Learning Center & Center for Research to Practice

a2 Columbia University

a3 University of Minnesota


Postinstitutionalized children frequently demonstrate persistent socioemotional difficulties. For example, some postinstitutionalized children display an unusual lack of social reserve with unfamiliar adults. This behavior, which has been referred to as indiscriminate friendliness, disinhibited attachment behavior, and disinhibited social behavior, was examined by comparing children internationally adopted from institutional care to children internationally adopted from foster care and children raised by their biological families. Etiological factors and behavioral correlates were also investigated. Both groups of adopted children displayed more disinhibited social behavior than the nonadopted children. Of the etiological factors examined, only the length of time in institutional care was related to disinhibited social behavior. Disinhibited social behavior was not significantly correlated with general cognitive ability, attachment-related behaviors, or basic emotion abilities. However, this behavior was negatively associated with inhibitory control abilities even after controlling for the length of time in institutional care. These results suggest that disinhibited social behavior might reflect underlying deficits in inhibitory control.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jacqueline Bruce, Oregon Social Learning Center, 10 Shelton McMurphey Boulevard, Eugene, OR 97401-4928; E-mail:


Support for this research and preparation of this manuscript was provided by NIMH Grant MH059848 (to M.R.G.), NIMH and ORMH Grant MH046690 (to J.B.), and NIDA Grant DA017592 (to J.B.). We thank the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota for generously providing space and equipment for this study. We are also incredibly grateful for the time and enthusiasm of the children and families who participated.