Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 42, Issue 8, pp 1341–1351 | Cite as

Prospective Association of Childhood Receptive Vocabulary and Conduct Problems with Self-Reported Adolescent Delinquency: Tests of Mediation and Moderation in Sibling-Comparison Analyses

  • Benjamin B. LaheyEmail author
  • Brian M. D’Onofrio
  • Carol A. Van Hulle
  • Paul J. Rathouz


Associations among receptive vocabulary measured at 4–9 years, mother-reported childhood conduct problems at 4–9 years, and self-reported adolescent delinquency at 14–17 years were assessed using data from a prospective study of the offspring of a large U.S. nationally representative sample of women. A novel quasi-experimental strategy was used to rule out family-level confounding by estimating path-analytic associations within families in a sibling comparison design. This allowed simultaneous tests of the direct and indirect effects of receptive vocabulary and childhood conduct problems, and of their joint moderation, on adolescent delinquency without family-level environmental confounding. The significant association of receptive vocabulary with later adolescent delinquency was indirect, mediated by childhood conduct problems. Furthermore, a significant interaction between receptive vocabulary and childhood conduct problems reflected a steeper slope for the predictive association between childhood conduct problems and adolescent delinquency when receptive vocabulary scores were higher. These findings of significant indirect association were qualitatively identical in both population-level and within-family analyses, suggesting that they are not the result of family-level confounds.


Receptive vocabulary, Childhood conduct problems, Adolescent delinquency, Sibling comparison analysis, Quasi-experimental designs 



Supported by grant R01 HD061384 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin B. Lahey
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brian M. D’Onofrio
    • 2
  • Carol A. Van Hulle
    • 3
  • Paul J. Rathouz
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Health Studies (MC 2007)University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.University of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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