Cognitive Abilities, Social Adaptation, and Externalizing Behavior Problems in Childhood and Adolescence: Specific Cascade Effects Across Development
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.
KeywordsCascade models Child and adolescent development Cognitive abilities Social adaptation Externalizing behavior
We thank the participating families and research assistants who worked on this longitudinal study. Preliminary versions of this paper were presented at the Society for Prevention Research annual meeting, Washington, DC, May 2015, and Society for Research in Adolescence biennial meeting, Baltimore, MD, March 2016.
This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, NICHD.
SJR conceived of the design and coordination of the current study, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; DLP participated in the design of the study, assisted with data analysis and interpretation, and reviewed drafts of the manuscript; JTDS participated in the design and coordination of the larger longitudinal study from which the data were drawn; CH participated in the design and coordination of the larger longitudinal study from which the data were drawn, and helped conceive the current study; MHB conceived of the larger longitudinal study from which the data were drawn, participated in the design of the current study, and reviewed drafts of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all parents/guardians of the participants and assent was obtained from all participants included in the study.
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