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Co-Developmental Trajectories of Specific Anxiety Symptoms from Middle Childhood to Early Adolescence: Associations with Psychological Well-Being and Academic Achievement

Abstract

Different types of specific anxiety symptoms commonly co-occur but also display distinct developmental trajectories over time in children and adolescents. Nevertheless, little is known about the co-developmental trajectories of specific anxiety symptoms among youth during the transition into adolescence and how identified trajectories are associated with important psychological and academic outcomes. This study thus aimed to determine the (a) heterogeneous co-developmental trajectories of five specific anxiety symptoms (generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, social anxiety, school anxiety, and panic disorder) from middle childhood to early adolescence, and (b) associations between the identified, distinct trajectories and youth’s psychological well-being and academic achievement. A total of 715 Chinese elementary school students (45.6% girls, Mage = 8.96, SD = 0.76) completed measures on six occasions across three years, using 6-month intervals. Parallel process latent class growth modeling revealed five distinct anxiety trajectory groups: “congruent-low” (49.8%), “moderately low with predominant social anxiety” (18.5%), “moderately low with predominant school anxiety” (12.6%), “moderately high with predominant generalized and social anxiety” (8.6%), and “congruent-high” (10.5%). The lowest psychological well-being and academic achievement were observed for youth who persistently experienced the co-occurrence of two or more specific anxiety symptoms, followed by those who persistently experienced one predominant anxiety symptom, and finally, youth who persistently experienced low levels of all five specific anxiety symptoms. The identification of five heterogeneous groups with differential outcomes highlights the importance of individual differences considerations in understanding the co-developmental patterns of specific anxiety symptoms from middle childhood to early adolescence and the need for more sophisticated intervention programs tailored to members of specific groups to promote optimal psychological well-being and academic success.

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Authors’ Contributions

XFX conceived of the study, participated in its design, collected data, performed the statistical analysis, and coordination and drafted the first manuscript, and revised the manuscript based on reviewers’ comments; SH conceived of the study, and participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the manuscript, and revised the manuscript based on reviewers’ comments; LLT conceived of the study, participated in its design, collected data, and coordination and draft the manuscript, and revised the manuscript based on reviewers’ comments. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31971005), and the Major Program of the National Social Science Foundation of China (No. 19ZDA360).

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The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Lili Tian.

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The present study was approved by School of Psychology Research Ethics Committee, South China Normal University. All procedures performed in this study 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.

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Xu, X., Huebner, E.S. & Tian, L. Co-Developmental Trajectories of Specific Anxiety Symptoms from Middle Childhood to Early Adolescence: Associations with Psychological Well-Being and Academic Achievement. J Youth Adolescence 50, 1140–1156 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01411-5

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Keywords

  • Specific anxiety symptoms
  • Co-development
  • Psychological well-being
  • Academic achievement
  • Middle childhood to early adolescence