Internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescence: general and dimension-specific effects of familial loadings and preadolescent temperament traits

Psychol Med. 2005 Dec;35(12):1825-35. doi: 10.1017/S0033291705005829.


Background: We investigated the links between familial loading, preadolescent temperament, and internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescence, hereby distinguishing effects on maladjustment in general versus dimension-specific effects on either internalizing or externalizing problems.

Method: In a population-based sample of 2230 preadolescents (10-11 years) familial loading (parental lifetime psychopathology) and offspring temperament were assessed at baseline by parent report, and offspring psychopathology at 2.5-years follow-up by self-report, teacher report and parent report. We used purified measures of temperament and psychopathology and partialled out shared variance between internalizing and externalizing problems.

Results: Familial loading of internalizing psychopathology predicted offspring internalizing but not externalizing problems, whereas familial loading of externalizing psychopathology predicted offspring externalizing but not internalizing problems. Both familial loadings were associated with Frustration, low Effortful Control, and Fear. Frustration acted as a general risk factor predicting severity of maladjustment; low Effortful Control and Fear acted as dimension-specific risk factors that predicted a particular type of psychopathology; whereas Shyness, High-Intensity Pleasure, and Affiliation acted as direction markers that steered the conditional probability of internalizing versus externalizing problems, in the event of maladjustment. Temperament traits mediated one-third of the association between familial loading and psychopathology. Findings were robust across different composite measures of psychopathology, and applied to girls as well as boys.

Conclusions: With regard to familial loading and temperament, it is important to distinguish general risk factors (Frustration) from dimension-specific risk factors (familial loadings, Effortful Control, Fear), and direction markers that act as pathoplastic factors (Shyness, High-Intensity Pleasure, Affiliation) from both types of risk factors. About one-third of familial loading effects on psychopathology in early adolescence are mediated by temperament.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Personality Development*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament*