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Cumulative early childhood adversity and later antisocial behavior: The mediating role of passive avoidance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2020

Idil Yazgan*
Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Jamie L. Hanson
Department of Psychology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA
John E. Bates
Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Jennifer E. Lansford
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
Gregory S. Pettit
Department of Human Development and Family Studies / College of Human Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA
Kenneth A. Dodge
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
Author for correspondence: Idil Yazgan, Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University, 302 Towerview Rd., Durham, NC27708. E-mail:


Twenty-six percent of children experience a traumatic event by the age of 4. Negative events during childhood have deleterious correlates later in life, including antisocial behavior. However, the mechanisms that play into this relation are unclear. We explored deficits in neurocognitive functioning, specifically problems in passive avoidance, a construct with elements of inhibitory control and learning as a potential acquired mediator for the pathway between cumulative early childhood adversity from birth to age 7 and later antisocial behavior through age 18, using prospective longitudinal data from 585 participants. Path analyses showed that cumulative early childhood adversity predicted impaired passive avoidance during adolescence and increased antisocial behavior during late adolescence. Furthermore, poor neurocognition, namely, passive avoidance, predicted later antisocial behavior and significantly mediated the relation between cumulative early childhood adversity and later antisocial behavior. This research has implications for understanding the development of later antisocial behavior and points to a potential target for neurocognitive intervention within the pathway from cumulative early childhood adversity to later antisocial behavior.

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