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Dysregulation in children: Origins and implications from age 5 to age 28

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2017

Maureen E. McQuillan*
Indiana University
Ebru C. Kultur
Hacettepe University
John E. Bates
Indiana University
Lauren M. O'Reilly
Indiana University
Kenneth A. Dodge
Duke University
Jennifer E. Lansford
Duke University
Gregory S. Pettit
Auburn University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Maureen E. McQuillan, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405; E-mail:


Research shows that childhood dysregulation is associated with later psychiatric disorders. It does not yet resolve discrepancies in the operationalization of dysregulation. It is also far from settled on the origins and implications of individual differences in dysregulation. This study tested several operational definitions of dysregulation using Achenbach attention, anxious/depressed, and aggression subscales. Individual growth curves of dysregulation were computed, and predictors of growth differences were considered. The study also compared the predictive utility of the dysregulation indexes to standard externalizing and internalizing indexes. Dysregulation was indexed annually for 24 years in a community sample (n = 585). Hierarchical linear models considered changes in dysregulation in relation to possible influences from parenting, family stress, child temperament, language, and peer relations. In a test of the meaning of dysregulation, it was related to functional and psychiatric outcomes in adulthood. Dysregulation predictions were further compared to those of the more standard internalizing and externalizing indexes. Growth curve analyses showed strong stability of dysregulation. Initial levels of dysregulation were predicted by temperamental resistance to control, and change in dysregulation was predicted by poor language ability and peer relations. Dysregulation and externalizing problems were associated with negative adult outcomes to a similar extent.

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The Child Development Project has been funded by Grants MH42498, MH56961, MH57024, and MH57095 from the National Institutes of Mental Health; Grant HD30572 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Grant DA016903 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Kenneth A. Dodge was supported by National Institute of Drug Abuse Grant 2K05 DA015226. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health or Indiana University.


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