Distress tolerance and early adolescent externalizing and internalizing symptoms: the moderating role of gender and ethnicity

Behav Res Ther. 2009 Mar;47(3):198-205. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.12.001. Epub 2008 Dec 13.

Abstract

A large body of research has examined the development of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in childhood and early adolescence. Notably, there is significant concomitant impairment associated with early adolescent symptomatology, as well as association of these symptoms with future development of psychopathology, poor physical health, self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, criminal behavior, and HIV risk behaviors. Drawing on negative reinforcement theory, the current study sought to examine the potential role of distress tolerance, defined as the ability to persist in goal-directed activity while experiencing emotional distress, as a potential mechanism that may underlie both internalizing and externalizing symptoms among 231 Caucasian and African American youth (M age=10.9 years; 45.5% female; 54.5% Caucasian ethnicity). A series of regressions resulted in significant moderated relationships, such that low distress tolerance conferred increased risk for alcohol use among Caucasians, delinquent behavior among African Americans, and internalizing symptoms among females. Clinical implications, including the potential role of negative reinforcement models in early intervention with young adolescents, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*