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The role of language ability and self-regulation in the development of inattentive–hyperactive behavior problems

  • Isaac T. Petersen (a1), John E. Bates (a1) and Angela D. Staples (a2)

Previous research has found associations but not established mechanisms of developmental linkage between language ability and inattentive–hyperactive (I-H) behavior problems. The present study examined whether self-regulation mediates the effect of language ability on later I-H behavior problems among young children (N = 120) assessed at 30, 36, and 42 months of age. Cross-lagged panel models tested the direction of effect between language ability and self-regulation and longitudinal effects of language ability on later I-H problems mediated by self-regulation. Language ability was measured by children's scores on the receptive and expressive language subtests of the Differential Ability Scales. Self-regulation was measured by three behavioral tasks requiring inhibitory control. I-H problems were reported by parents and secondary caregivers. Language ability predicted later self-regulation as measured by all three tasks. There was no association, however, between self-regulation and later language ability, suggesting that the direction of effect was stronger from language ability to later self-regulation. Moreover, the effect of language ability on later I-H behavior problems was mediated by children's self-regulation in one of the tasks (for secondary caregivers' but not parents' ratings). Findings suggest that language deficits may explain later I-H behavior problems via their prediction of poorer self-regulatory skills.

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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