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14-01-2021

Externalizing and Internalizing Problems: Associations with Family Adversity and Young Children’s Adrenocortical and Autonomic Functioning

Tijdschrift:
Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Auteurs:
Natalie Goulter, Danielle S. Roubinov, Robert J. McMahon, W. Thomas Boyce, Nicole R. Bush
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10802-020-00762-0.

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Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Abstract

The development of child mental health problems has been associated with experiences of adversity and dysregulation of stress response systems; however, past research has largely focused on externalizing or internalizing problems (rather than their co-occurrence) and single physiological systems in high-risk adolescent samples. The present study examined whether cumulative family adversity, functioning in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (i.e., cortisol) and the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]), and their interactions, predicted trajectories of co-occurring externalizing and internalizing problems among young children. Participants included 338 socioeconomically and racially diverse children (M age = 5.32 years, SD = .32; male = 51.8%) from a community sample. Family adversity (assessed with six measures) and child daily cortisol output and resting RSA were assessed in kindergarten. Parents, teachers, and children reported on children’s externalizing and internalizing psychopathology up to three times from kindergarten to grade 1. Latent class growth analyses identified stable trajectories of externalizing and internalizing psychopathology. Trajectories were combined to create groups: co-occurring externalizing and internalizing (13.1%), externalizing-only (14.0%), internalizing-only (11.3%), and low problems (61.3%). Family adversity and resting RSA significantly positively predicted co-occurring group membership. Tests for interactions showed adversity did not significantly interact with physiological indicators to predict group membership. However, the two physiological systems interacted, such that higher and lower daily cortisol predicted internalizing group membership for children with lower and higher resting RSA, respectively. Findings support the importance of considering family context and multiple physiological systems to inform understanding of the development of mental health problems, and their co-occurrence, in early childhood.

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