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Effortful control as a moderator of the relation between contextual risk factors and growth in adjustment problems

  • Liliana J. Lengua (a1), Nicole R. Bush (a1), Anna C. Long (a1), Erica A. Kovacs (a1) and Anika M. Trancik (a1)...


Effortful control was examined as a moderator of the relations of three domains of contextual risk factors to growth in internalizing and externalizing problems in a community sample (N = 189) of children (8–12 years at Time 1). Socioeconomic, maternal, and environmental risk factors were examined as predictors of initial levels and growth in children's adjustment problems across 3 years. The effects of the risk factors depended on children's level of effortful control. For children lower in effortful control, socioeconomic risk was related to significantly higher initial levels of internalizing and externalizing problems and decreases over time. However, children lower in effortful control had higher levels of problems at all three time points than children higher in effortful control. Maternal risk was associated with increases in internalizing for children lower in effortful control, and environmental risk was related to increases in internalizing and externalizing problems for children lower in effortful control, but not those higher in effortful control. Children who were lower in effortful control appeared to experience more adverse effects of contextual risk than those higher in effortful control, suggesting that interventions aimed at improving children's effortful control might serve to protect children from increased risk of adjustment problems associated with contextual risk factors.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Liliana Lengua, University of Washington, Department of Psychology, Box 351525, Seattle, WA 98195; E-mail:


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Support for this research was provided by NIMH Grant R29MH57703. The authors thank the families who participated in this study and acknowledge Craig Colder for his contribution to this manuscript.



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