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Describing and predicting developmental profiles of externalizing problems from childhood to adulthood

  • Isaac T. Petersen (a1), John E. Bates (a1), Kenneth A. Dodge (a2), Jennifer E. Lansford (a2) and Gregory S. Pettit (a3)...


This longitudinal study considers externalizing behavior problems from ages 5 to 27 (N = 585). Externalizing problem ratings by mothers, fathers, teachers, peers, and self-report were modeled with growth curves. Risk and protective factors across many different domains and time frames were included as predictors of the trajectories. A major contribution of the study is in demonstrating how heterotypic continuity and changing measures can be handled in modeling changes in externalizing behavior over long developmental periods. On average, externalizing problems decreased from early childhood to preadolescence, increased during adolescence, and decreased from late adolescence to adulthood. There was strong nonlinear continuity in externalizing problems over time. Family process, peer process, stress, and individual characteristics predicted externalizing problems beyond the strong continuity of externalizing problems. The model accounted for 70% of the variability in the development of externalizing problems. The model's predicted values showed moderate sensitivity and specificity in prediction of arrests, illegal drug use, and drunk driving. Overall, the study showed that by using changing, developmentally relevant measures and simultaneously taking into account numerous characteristics of children and their living situations, research can model lengthy spans of development and improve predictions of the development of later, severe externalizing problems.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Isaac T. Petersen, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 East 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405; E-mail:


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Describing and predicting developmental profiles of externalizing problems from childhood to adulthood

  • Isaac T. Petersen (a1), John E. Bates (a1), Kenneth A. Dodge (a2), Jennifer E. Lansford (a2) and Gregory S. Pettit (a3)...


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