Development and Psychopathology


Developmental pathways in disruptive child behavior

Rolf Loebera1, Phen Wunga1, Kate Keenana1, Bruce Girouxa1, Magda Stouthamer-Loebera1, Welmoet B. Van Kammena1 and Barbara Maughama2

a1 Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

a2 Institute of Psychiatry, London


Developmental sequences in disruptive behavior from childhood to adolescence are traced retrospectively and prospectively in two community samples of boys. Three developmental pathways are distinguished: (a) an early authority conflict pathway, consisting in sequence of stubborn behavior, defiance, and authority avoidance; (b) a covert pathway, consisting of minor covert behaviors, property damage, and moderate to serious forms of delinquency; and (c) an overt pathway, consisting of aggression, fighting, and violence. The overlap among the three disruptive pathways is examined. Those boys who escalated in the overt pathway were more likely to escalate in the covert pathway than boys escalating in the covert pathway showing an escalation in the overt pathway. Escalation in the authority conflict pathway was not associated with escalation in either the overt or the covert pathways. Boys' rate of self-reported delinquency was highest for those in triple pathways (covert-overt-authority conflict) or in certain dual pathways (covert-overt, covert-authority conflict). However, by age 16 the highest rate of offending was displayed by those in the triple pathways. The rate of violent offenses was also highest for those in the triple pathways and for those in the overt and covert pathways. Results from the rate for court petitions largely supported these findings. Lowest rates of offending were observed for boys in the overt and authority conflict pathways. Implications are discussed for clinical practice and future research.