Girls' hyperactivity and physical aggression during childhood and adjustment problems in early adulthood: a 15-year longitudinal study

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Mar;65(3):320-8. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2007.41.


Context: The co-occurrence of hyperactivity and conduct problems in childhood seems to increase the risk of early adulthood adjustment problems in males. However, little is known about this topic in females.

Objectives: To describe the joint developmental trajectories of female hyperactivity and physical aggression during childhood and to examine the extent to which high trajectories of hyperactivity and physical aggression predict adjustment problems in early adulthood.

Design, setting, and participants: A total of 881 females from a population-based sample were studied. Developmental trajectories were described using teachers' ratings of behavior problems from the age of 6 to 12 years.

Main outcome measures: Age 21 years self-reports of substance use problems, criminal behaviors, aggression in intimate relationships, early pregnancy, educational attainment, and welfare assistance.

Results: Between the ages of 6 and 12 years, the frequency of hyperactivity and physical aggression tended to decrease for most girls. Those on a trajectory of high hyperactivity (HH) and high physical aggression (HPA) and a trajectory of HH alone were significantly more likely to report nicotine use problems (odds ratio [OR], 2.16 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.30-3.56] and OR, 2.23 [95% CI, 1.39-3.58], respectively), mutual psychological aggression in intimate relationships (OR, 2.28 [95% CI, 1.24-4.18] and OR, 2.14 [95% CI, 1.19-3.85], respectively), and low educational attainment (OR, 4.09 [95% CI, 2.33-7.18] and OR, 3.21 [95% CI, 1.84-5.59], respectively) compared with the other females at the age of 21 years. Only the HH-HPA females were significantly more likely to report physical aggression (OR, 2.48 [95% CI, 1.41-4.37]) and psychological aggression (OR, 2.54 [95% CI, 1.48-4.36]) in intimate relationships, early pregnancy (OR, 2.31 [95% CI, 1.17-4.56]), and welfare assistance (OR, 2.68 [95% CI, 1.33-5.41]) compared with the other females.

Conclusions: Elementary school girls with elevated levels of hyperactivity should be targeted for intensive prevention programs. These interventions should take into account the presence or absence of HPA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Child
  • Domestic Violence
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Odds Ratio
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder