EARLY INTERNALIZING AND EXTERNALIZING PROBLEMS: AN EXPLORATION OF RISK FOR LATER PROBLEM BEHAVIOR COMORBIDITY
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The comorbidity of problem behaviors within individuals is prevalent and represents a public health concern. To date, extant literature remains inconclusive regarding which presents greater risk for the development of comorbidity: internalizing problems or externalizing problems. This study addressed the question of risk by first creating an outcome variable representative of comorbid elevations in internalizing and externalizing behaviors--a first step taken by few extant studies. Logistic regression was used on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K; National Center for Education Statistics, 2002) to answer which single problem behavior was more likely to precede comorbidity. Additionally, mediation by social and academic competence along with gender differences were examined. Results showed that, in general, externalizing problems in first grade were more likely to precede fifth grade comorbidity. Social competence and, to a lesser extent, academic competence in math mediated the problem behavior trajectories. Significant gender differences existed, however, such that, for girls, externalizing problems did not present risk for later comorbidity and, for boys, academic competence was not a significant mediator. Existing research findings and psychological theory were utilized to provide potential explanations for the results and implications for future research and practice were discussed.