Disruptive behavior in adolescence may indicate a broad vulnerability to disinhibition, which begins in childhood and culminates in adult externalizing psychopathology. We utilized prospective birth cohort data to assess childhood predictors of adolescent disinhibition. We also examined the effect of pre-adolescent fluctuation in cognitive ability. Data were drawn from the Child Health and Development Study cohort, born 1961-1963; we used the subsample who participated in follow-up through adolescence (n=1752). Six indicators of behavioral disinhibition (BD), reported in adolescence, were analyzed as a count outcome. Predictor variables were drawn from several waves of data collection and included individual- and neighborhood-level measures. Cognitive ability was assessed with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at two time points. Neighborhood characteristics were assessed using census data from 1970. Number of BD indicators was predicted by maternal characteristics at prenatal assessment (maternal age and alcohol consumption) and age-10 assessment (maternal smoking, education, and separation from father). Characteristics of the child that predicted BD included birth order and conduct problems in middle childhood. Neighborhood poverty did not predict BD. Regardless of initial cognitive ability score, movement to a higher quartile by adolescence was associated with lower BD, while movement to a lower quartile was associated with higher BD. Risk for adolescent BD exists prenatally and extends through middle childhood. Change in cognitive ability during pre-adolescence emerged as a potentially important factor that merits further investigation. A greater focus on the life course can aid in comprehensively understanding disruptive behavior emergence in adolescence.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported in part by a fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health (T32-MH013043-36, K. Keyes and March), a fellowship from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (F31-DA026689, K. Keyes). We also wish to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to this work: Roberta Christianson, M.A., and Barbara Cohn, Ph.D. We also wish to thank the National Institute for Child Health and Development, and the Public Health Institute, Berkeley, CA.
- Risk Levels
- child health
- disinhibitory behavior