The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ): the factor structure and scale validation in U.S. adolescents

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2013 May;41(4):583-95. doi: 10.1007/s10802-012-9696-6.


The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is one of the most commonly used instruments for screening psychopathology in children and adolescents. This study evaluated the hypothesized five-factor structure of the SDQ and examined its convergent validity against comprehensive clinical diagnostic assessments. Data were derived from the National Comorbidity Survey - Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents aged 13 to 18 years. Parents/parent surrogates (n=6,483) was asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire including the SDQ and DSM-IV comprehensive diagnostic information on the participating adolescents. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted to assess the factor structure of the SDQ. The five-factor solution of the SDQ (including emotional, conduct, hyperactivity-inattention, peer relationship, and prosocial) provided a satisfactory fit to the data, and was invariant across sex, age, race/ethnicity and income subgroups. SDQ scores predicted a significantly increased probability of meeting criteria for a DSM-IV disorder, with better prediction for behavior disorders than for mood disorders. Decreasing the SDQ cutoffs to the 80th percentile significantly increased the sensitivity from 39% to 63% for the SDQ Total Difficulties Score, with an expected decrease in specificity from 93% to 87%. This work confirms the five-factor structure of the SDQ in an ethnically and sociodemogrpahically diverse community sample of adolescents. Our findings strengthen empirical evidence for the use of the parent-reported SDQ as a screening tool for DSM-IV behavioral and emotional disorders in adolescents identified in the general population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology
  • Parents
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / standards*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*
  • United States