Psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) in the general population are common, particularly in childhood, and may constitute part of a spectrum of normative development. Nevertheless, these experiences confer increased risk for later psychotic disorder, and are associated with poorer health and quality of life.
This study used factor analytic methods to determine the latent structure underlying PLEs, problem behaviours and personal competencies in the general child population, and used item response theory (IRT) to assess the psychometric properties of nine PLE items to determine which items best represented a latent psychotic-like construct (PSY). A total of 7966 children aged 9–11 years, constituting 95% of eligible children, completed self-report questionnaires.
Almost two-thirds of the children endorsed at least one PLE item. Structural analyses identified a unidimensional construct representing psychotic-like severity in the population, the full range of which was well sampled by the nine items. This construct was discriminable from (though correlated with) latent dimensions representing internalizing and externalizing problems. Items assessing visual and auditory hallucination-like experiences provided the most information about PSY; delusion-like experiences identified children at more severe levels of the construct.
Assessing PLEs during middle childhood is feasible and supplements information concerning internalizing and externalizing problems presented by children. The hallucination-like experiences constitute appropriate items to screen the population to identify children who may require further clinical assessment or monitoring. Longitudinal follow-up of the children is required to determine sensitivity and specificity of the PLE items for later psychotic illness.
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