Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Developmental cascades: Externalizing, internalizing, and academic competence from middle childhood to early adolescence

Kristin L. Moilanena1 c1, Daniel S. Shawa1 and Kari L. Maxwella2

a1 University of Pittsburgh

a2 West Virginia University


The current study was initiated to increase understanding of developmental cascades in childhood in a sample of at-risk boys (N = 291; 52% White). Mothers, teachers, and boys reported on boys' externalizing problems, internalizing difficulties, and academic competence. Consistent with hypotheses regarding school-related transitions, high levels of externalizing problems were associated with both low levels of academic competence and high levels of internalizing problems during the early school-age period, and with elevations in internalizing problems during the transition to adolescence. Low levels of academic competence were associated with high levels of internalizing problems in middle childhood, and with high levels of externalizing problems during the transition from elementary school to middle school. Shared risk factors played a minimal role in these developmental cascades. Results suggest that there are cascading effects of externalizing problems and academic competence in childhood and early adolescence, and that some cascading effects are more likely to occur during periods of school-related transitions. Implications of developmental cascade effects for research and intervention are discussed.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kristin L. Moilanen, Child Development and Family Studies, Department of Technology, Learning and Culture, West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6122, Morgantown, WV 26506; E-mail:


The research reported in this paper was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grants MH 50907 and MH 01666 (to D.S.S.). Portions of this study were previously presented at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development. We are grateful to the work of the staff of the Pitt Mother & Child Project for their years of service and to our study families for making the research possible. Our thanks also go to Heather Gross, Luke Hyde, Christopher Trentacosta, and Ella Vanderbilt-Adriance for their assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.