Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 48, Issue 9, pp 1754–1764 | Cite as

Early Environmental Unpredictability: Implications for Youth’s Perceptions and Social Functioning

  • Kelli L. Dickerson
  • Helen M. Milojevich
  • Jodi A. QuasEmail author
Empirical Research


According to an evolutionary perspective, early environmental unpredictability induces expectations in youth that their future is uncertain and increases their likelihood of engaging in opportunistic, impulsive, and aggressive behaviors. Although considerable evidence supports the links between environmental unpredictability and such behaviors, less is known about how youth growing up in volatile environments actually perceive their lives and how these perceptions relate to their behavior. In this study, two samples of 10–17 year-olds, one with a history of maltreatment and removal from home (n = 90; 52% female; 67% Hispanic-American) and one without (n = 80; 54% female; 69% Hispanic-American), reported on their perceptions of unpredictability and social functioning. Maltreated youth endorsed greater perceptions of unpredictability than non-maltreated youth. For both groups, greater perceptions of unpredictability were associated with increased aggression and conduct problems and decreased prosociality. Findings advance understanding of a developmental pathway contributing to opportunistic and risky social behavior in youth.


Future perceptions Unpredictability Maltreatment Life history theory 


Authors’ Contributions

Each author made substantial contributions to the present study. K.D. and J.Q. conceived of the study design, performed data collection and analysis, and drafted the manuscript. H.M. aided in data collection and helped prepare and revise the manuscript.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding was provided by NICHD Grant HD087685.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study 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

Informed consent procedures varied by sample. Because the maltreated youth were no longer in parental custody, the Presiding Judge of Juvenile Court granted permission for youth to be approached and invited to participate in the study. Staff who knew the youth confirmed their interest and eligibility on each day of data collection and youth provided written assent. Parents of youth in the comparison sample provided informed consent and the youth provided written assent.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological Science, 4201 Social and Behavioral Sciences GatewayUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Center for Developmental ScienceUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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