Cognitive Abilities, Social Adaptation, and Externalizing Behavior Problems in Childhood and Adolescence: Specific Cascade Effects Across Development
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Children’s and adolescents’ cognitive abilities, social adaptation, and externalizing behaviors are broadly associated with each other at the bivariate level; however, the direction, ordering, and uniqueness of these associations have yet to be identified. Developmental cascade models are particularly well-suited to (1) discern unique pathways among psychological domains and (2) model stability in and covariation among constructs, allowing for conservative tests of longitudinal associations. The current study aimed to identify specific cascade effects among children’s cognitive abilities, social adaptation, and externalizing behaviors, beginning in preschool and extending through adolescence. Children (46.2 % female) and mothers (N = 351 families) provided data when children were 4, 10, and 14 years old. Cascade effects highlighted significant stability in these domains. Unique longitudinal associations were identified between (1) age-10 cognitive abilities and age-14 social adaptation, (2) age-4 social adaptation and age-10 externalizing behavior, and (3) age-10 externalizing behavior and age-14 social adaptation. These findings suggest that children’s social adaptation in preschool and externalizing behavior in middle childhood may be ideal intervention targets to enhance adolescent well-being.