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Multiple risk factors in the development of externalizing behavior problems: Group and individual differences



The aim of this study was to test whether individual risk factors as well as the number of risk factors (cumulative risk) predicted children's externalizing behaviors over middle childhood. A sample of 466 European American and 100 African American boys and girls from a broad range of socioeconomic levels was followed from age 5 to 10 years. Twenty risk variables from four domains (child, sociocultural, parenting, and peer-related) were measured using in-home interviews at the beginning of the study, and annual assessments of externalizing behaviors were conducted. Consistent with past research, individual differences in externalizing behavior problems were stable over time and were related to individual risk factors as well as the number of risk factors present. Particular risks accounted for 36% to 45% of the variance, and the number of risks present (cumulative risk status) accounted for 19% to 32% of the variance, in externalizing outcomes. Cumulative risk was related to subsequent externalizing even after initial levels of externalizing had been statistically controlled. All four domains of risk variables made significant unique contributions to this statistical prediction, and there were multiple clusters of risks that led to similar outcomes. There was also evidence that this prediction was moderated by ethnic group status, most of the prediction of externalizing being found for European American children. However, this moderation effect varied depending on the predictor and outcome variables included in the model.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kirby Deater–Deckard, Department of Psychology, 1227 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1227; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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