Robert Laird and colleagues used path analyses to test longitudinal relations between Externalizing problems, peer rejection, and involvement with antisocial peers. Participants were 400 children of diverse SES and ethnic backgrounds assessed at multiple sites. The data included: (a) age 5 CBCL Externalizing scores; (b) ages 6-9 mean of CBCL and TRF Externalizing scores each year, plus peer rejection scores from sociometric interviews; (c) age 13 mean of Externalizing scores on the CBCL, YSR, and TRF, plus questionnaire reports of involvement with antisocial peers; (d) age 14 mean of Externalizing scores on the CBCL, YSR, and TRF. Externalizing scores correlated .58 from age 5 to ages 6-9 and .37 to age 14; .61 from ages 6-9 to ages 13 and 14; and .69 from age 13 to 14. Path analyses that included multiple variables showed that Externalizing scores at ages 6-9 were the strongest predictors of Externalizing scores at age 14.
Furthermore, age 5 Externalizing scores predicted peer rejection at ages 6-9. Ages 6-9 peer rejection, in turn, predicted Externalizing scores at age 13. Externalizing scores at ages 6-9 predicted involvement with antisocial peers at age 13, but having antisocial peers at age 13 did not predict Externalizing scores at age 14. “Person centered” analyses documented both “life-course persistent” and “adolescent-onset” paths into adolescent Externalizing behavior, as well as a path from high Externalizing scores at ages 6-9 to scores in the normal range by adolescence.
The study illustrates how repeated applications of the same standardized measures of problems at successive ages can reveal important continuities as well as discontinuities in functioning. Such studies can test whether factors such as peer rejection and involvement with antisocial peers contribute to subsequent maladjustment, result from previous maladjustment, or both.
Reference: Laird, R.D., Jordan, K.Y., Dodge, K.A., Pettit, G.S., & Bates, J.E. (2001). Peer rejection in childhood, involvement with antisocial peers in early adolescence, and the development of externalizing behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 337-354.