Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 61–82 | Cite as

Associations Between Language and Problem Behavior: a Systematic Review and Correlational Meta-analysis

  • Jason C. ChowEmail author
  • Joseph H. Wehby
Review Article


A growing body of evidence points to the common co-occurrence of language and behavioral difficulties in children. Primary studies often focus on this relation in children with identified deficits. However, it is unknown whether this relation holds across other children at risk or representative samples of children or over time. The purpose of this paper is to describe the results of a systematic review and two meta-analyses exploring the concurrent and predictive associations between language ability and problem behavior in school-age children. A systematic literature search yielded 1655 unduplicated abstracts, and a structured study selection process resulted in 19 eligible reports and 25 effect sizes for the concurrent analysis and 8 reports and 10 effect sizes for the predictive analysis. Eligible reports were then coded, and effect sizes were extracted and synthesized via random effects meta-analyses. Results estimate significant negative concurrent (z = −0.17 [−0.21, −0.13]) and predictive (z = −0.17 [−0.21, −0.13]) associations between language and problem behavior, and these relations hold across age, time, and risk status. Mean effect sizes for receptive and expressive language were significant. This study adds to the quantitative and descriptive literature by summarizing and corroborating the evidence that low language ability is associated with problem behavior. Further research is needed relative to differences in subconstructs of language and behavior, as well as a focus on intervention for students with these comorbid deficits.


Language Behavior Problem behavior Meta-analysis 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interests

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Counseling and Special EducationVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of Special EducationVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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