Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Competence and psychopathology: Cascade effects in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development

Keith B. Burta1 c1 and Glenn I. Roismana2

a1 University of Vermont

a2 University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign


Existing longitudinal research on the interplay between externalizing problems, internalizing problems, and academic and social competence has documented “cascading” effects from early aggressive/disruptive behavior through impairments in competence, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety. The primary aim of the current study was to replicate such work using the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development while also extending the developmental window of investigation of cascades back into early childhood. Participating families (N = 1,160) completed questionnaire measures of externalizing, internalizing, and social competence (maternal report), as well as individual assessment of academic achievement, spanning five time points from age 54 months through age 15 years. A series of nested structural equation models tested predicted links across various domains of competence and psychopathology. Results were consistent with prior research, demonstrating cross-domain effects from early externalizing problems through effects on both academic and social competence into later internalizing problems. Effects held across gender and were largely unaffected by inclusion of socioeconomic status, early caregiving, and early cognitive ability as covariates in the model.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Keith B. Burt, Department of Psychology, John Dewey Hall Room 340, University of Vermont, 2 Colchester Avenue, Burlington, VT 05405-0134; E-mail:


The preparation of this manuscript was supported by Grant U10 HD027040 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD (to G.I.R.).