Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

The role of language ability and self-regulation in the development of inattentive–hyperactive behavior problems

Isaac T. Petersena1 c1, John E. Batesa1 and Angela D. Staplesa2

a1 Indiana University

a2 University of Virginia


Previous research has found associations but not established mechanisms of developmental linkage between language ability and inattentive–hyperactive (I-H) behavior problems. The present study examined whether self-regulation mediates the effect of language ability on later I-H behavior problems among young children (N = 120) assessed at 30, 36, and 42 months of age. Cross-lagged panel models tested the direction of effect between language ability and self-regulation and longitudinal effects of language ability on later I-H problems mediated by self-regulation. Language ability was measured by children's scores on the receptive and expressive language subtests of the Differential Ability Scales. Self-regulation was measured by three behavioral tasks requiring inhibitory control. I-H problems were reported by parents and secondary caregivers. Language ability predicted later self-regulation as measured by all three tasks. There was no association, however, between self-regulation and later language ability, suggesting that the direction of effect was stronger from language ability to later self-regulation. Moreover, the effect of language ability on later I-H behavior problems was mediated by children's self-regulation in one of the tasks (for secondary caregivers' but not parents' ratings). Findings suggest that language deficits may explain later I-H behavior problems via their prediction of poorer self-regulatory skills.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Isaac T. Petersen, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 East 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405. E-mail:


  The authors thank Meghan Hanrahan and Rosanne Chien for their contributions to this paper. The Toddler Development Study was funded by Indiana University and Grants MH099437 from the National Institute of Mental Health and HD073202 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Support was also provided by Grant TL1 TR000162 (A. Shekhar, Principal Investigator) from the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Clinical and Translational Sciences Award, and by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (1 F31 MH100814-01A1; to I.T.P.).