Conduct disorder (CD) and depression co-occur at far greater levels than chance, despite largely separate diagnostic criteria. One potential shared mechanism of this comorbidity is emotion dysregulation, which characterizes both internalizing and externalizing disorders. Previous research demonstrates that respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)—a peripheral biomarker of emotion regulation—is attenuated among children with CD, and among children with depression. However, few studies have examined biomarkers of emotion regulation as a function of heterotypic comorbidity. We evaluated longitudinal patterns of RSA and RSA reactivity to emotion evocation across three annual assessments among 207 children diagnosed at ages 8–12 years with CD (n=30), depression (n=28), comorbid CD and depression (n=80), or no psychiatric condition (n=69). Using continuous symptom counts as predictors, Depression × CD interactions were observed for both Time 1 resting RSA and Time 1 RSA reactivity. Conduct disorder, depression, and their interaction were all associated with low resting RSA at Time 1. In addition, concurrently elevated CD and depression scores predicted the greatest RSA reactivity to emotion evocation. Psychopathology scores were unrelated to developmental changes in RSA and RSA reactivity over time.
conduct disorder; depression; heterotypic comorbidity; respiratory sinus arrhythmia; heart rate variability
To evaluate measures of cardiac activity and reactivity as prospective biomarkers of treatment response to an empirically-supported behavioral intervention for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Cardiac pre-ejection period (PEP), an index of sympathetic-linked cardiac activity, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and index of parasympathetic-linked cardiac activity, were assessed among 99 preschool children (ages 4–6 years) with ADHD both at rest and in response to behavioral challenge, before participants and their parents completed one of two versions of the Incredible Years parent and child interventions.
Main effects of PEP activity and reactivity, and of RSA activity and reactivity were found. Although sample-wide improvements in behavior were observed at post treatment, those who exhibited lengthened cardiac PEP at rest and reduced PEP reactivity to incentives scored higher on measures of conduct problems and aggression both before and after treatment. In contrast, children who exhibited lower baseline RSA and greater RSA withdrawal scored lower on prosocial behavior before and after treatment. Finally, children who exhibited greater RSA withdrawal scored lower on emotion regulation before and after treatment.
We discuss these findings in terms of (a) individual differences in underlying neurobiological systems subserving appetitive (i.e., approach) motivation, emotion regulation, and social affiliation, and (b) the need to develop more intensive interventions targeting neurobiologically vulnerable children.
ADHD; intervention; PEP; RSA; treatment response
During the last quarter century, developmental psychopathology has become increasingly inclusive and now spans disciplines ranging from psychiatric genetics to primary prevention. As a result, developmental psychopathologists have extended traditional diathesis–stress and transactional models to include causal processes at and across all relevant levels of analysis. Such research is embodied in what is known as the multiple levels of analysis perspective. We describe how multiple levels of analysis research has informed our current thinking about antisocial and borderline personality development among trait impulsive and therefore vulnerable individuals. Our approach extends the multiple levels of analysis perspective beyond simple Biology × Environment interactions by evaluating impulsivity across physiological systems (genetic, autonomic, hormonal, neural), psychological constructs (social, affective, motivational), developmental epochs (preschool, middle childhood, adolescence, adulthood), sexes (male, female), and methods of inquiry (self-report, informant report, treatment outcome, cardiovascular, electrophysiological, neuroimaging). By conducting our research using any and all available methods across these levels of analysis, we have arrived at a developmental model of trait impulsivity that we believe confers a greater understanding of this highly heritable trait and captures at least some heterogeneity in key behavioral outcomes, including delinquency and suicide.
Research on child and adolescent mental health problems has burgeoned since the inaugural issue of Development and Psychopathology was published in 1989. In the quarter century since, static models of psychopathology have been abandoned in favor of transactional models, following the agenda set by editor Dante Cicchetti and other proponents of the discipline. The transactional approach, which has been applied to autism, depression, self-injury, and delinquency, (a) specifies vulnerabilities and risk factors across multiple levels of analysis spanning genes to cultures, (b) identifies multifinal and equifinal pathways to psychopathology, and (c) transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. However, as noted by Rutter and Sroufe (2000), specific mechanisms of continuity, discontinuity, and comorbidity of psychopathology must be identified if we wish to understand etiology fully. In this article, we present a model of early-onset externalizing behavior in which comorbidities and continuities are viewed as ontogenic processes: products of complex longitudinal transactions between interdependent individual-level vulnerabilities (e.g., genetic, epigenetic, allostatic) and equally interdependent contextual risk factors (e.g., coercive parenting, deviant peer group affiliations, neighborhood criminality). Through interactions across levels of analysis, some individuals traverse along the externalizing spectrum, beginning with heritable trait impulsivity in preschool and ending in antisociality in adulthood. In describing our model, we note that (a) the approach outlined in the DSM to subtyping externalizing disorders continues to obscure developmental pathways to antisociality, (b) molecular genetics studies will likely not identify meaningful subtypes of externalizing disorder, and (c) ontogenic trait approaches to psychopathology are much more likely to advance the discipline in upcoming years.
Adaptation to violent environments across development involves a multitude of cascading effects spanning many levels of analysis from genes to behavior. In this review, we (a) examine the potentiating effects of violence on genetic vulnerabilities and the functioning of neurotransmitter systems in producing both internalizing and externalizing psychopathology, (b) consider the impact of violence on the developing human stress and startle responses, and (c) brain development including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. This review integrates literature on the developmental effects of violence on rodents, non-human primates, and humans. Many neurobiological changes that are adaptive for survival in violent contexts become maladaptive in other environments, conferring life-long risk for psychopathology.
abuse; adaptation; anxiety; depression; neurobiology
In this study, we evaluated predictors of resilience among 8- to 12-year-old children recruited from primarily low socioeconomic status neighborhoods, 117 of whom suffered from clinical levels of conduct problems and/or depression, and 63 of whom suffered from no significant symptoms. Tests of interactions were conducted between (a) paternal antisocial behavior and maternal depression and (b) several physiological indices of child temperament and emotionality in predicting (c) children’s conduct problems and depression. Both internalizing and externalizing outcomes among children were associated specifically with maternal melancholic depression, and not with nonmelancholic depression. In addition, low levels of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) among children conferred significant risk for depression, regardless of maternal melancholia, whereas high RSA offered partial protection. Furthermore, high levels of maternal melancholia conferred significant risk for child depression, regardless of paternal antisocial behavior, whereas low levels of maternal melancholia offered partial protection. Finally, low levels of electrodermal responding (EDR) conferred significant risk for conduct problems, regardless of paternal antisocial behavior, whereas high EDR offered partial protection. None of the identified protective factors offered complete immunity from psychopathology. These findings underscore the complexity of resilience and resilience-related processes, and suggest several potential avenues for future longitudinal research.
Although deficiencies in emotional responding have been linked to externalizing behaviors in children, little is known about how discrete response systems (e.g., expressive, physiological) are coordinated during emotional challenge among these youth. We examined time-linked correspondence of sad facial expressions and autonomic reactivity during an empathy-eliciting task among boys with disruptive behavior disorders (n = 31) and controls (n = 23). For controls, sad facial expressions were associated with reduced sympathetic (lower skin conductance level, lengthened cardiac preejection period [PEP]) and increased parasympathetic (higher respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]) activity. In contrast, no correspondence between facial expressions and autonomic reactivity was observed among boys with conduct problems. Furthermore, low correspondence between facial expressions and PEP predicted externalizing symptom severity, whereas low correspondence between facial expressions and RSA predicted internalizing symptom severity.
Conduct problems; Disruptive behavior; Facial expression; Sadness; Autonomic reactivity
Taxometric procedures provide an empirical means of determining which psychiatric disorders are typologically distinct from normal behavioral functioning. Although most disorders reflect extremes along continuously distributed behavioral traits, identifying those that are discrete has important implications for accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, early identification of risk, and improved understanding of etiology. This article provides (a) brief descriptions of the conceptual bases of several taxometric procedures, (b) example analyses using simulated data, and (c) strategies for avoiding common pitfalls that are often observed in taxometrics research. To date, most taxometrics studies have appeared in the adult psychopathology literature. It is hoped that this primer will encourage interested readers to extend taxometrics research to child and adolescent populations.
Although antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is more common among males and borderline personality disorder (BPD) is more common among females, some (e.g., Paris, 1997) have suggested that the two disorders reflect multifinal outcomes of a single etiology. This assertion is based on several overlapping symptoms and features, including trait impulsivity, emotional lability, high rates of depression and suicide, and a high likelihood of childhood abuse and/or neglect. Furthermore, rates of ASPD are elevated in the first degree relatives of those with BPD, and concurrent comorbidity rates for the two disorders are high. In this article, we present a common model of antisocial and borderline personality development. We begin by reviewing issues and problems with diagnosing and studying personality disorders in children and adolescents. Next, we discuss dopaminergic and serotonergic mechanisms of trait impulsivity as predisposing vulnerabilities to ASPD and BPD. Finally, we extend shared risk models for ASPD and BPD by specifying genetic loci that may confer differential vulnerability to impulsive aggression and mood dysregulation among males and impulsive self-injury and mood dysregulation among females. Although the precise mechanisms of these sex-moderated genetic vulnerabilities remain poorly understood, they appear to interact with environmental risk factors including adverse rearing environments to potentiate the development of ASPD and BPD.
antisocial; borderline; multifinality; genetics; environment
To examine sex differences in autonomic nervous system functioning in children and adolescents with conduct problems and to evaluate the role of aggression in predicting autonomic nervous system functioning, over and above the effects of disruptive behavior. Although deficiencies in autonomic responding among boys with oppositional defiant disorder and/or conduct disorder are well documented, it remains unclear whether such findings extend to girls or apply only to children with aggressive forms of conduct problems.
Electrodermal responding, cardiac pre-ejection period, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia were recorded while boys (n = 110; 53 with conduct problems, 57 controls) and girls (n = 65; 33 with conduct problems, 32 controls) between the ages of 8 and 12 sat for an extended baseline, then played a game with conditions of reward and frustrative nonreward.
Both sex effects and aggression effects were found. Aggressive boys with conduct problems demonstrated reduced autonomic functioning, consistent with previous research. In contrast, aggressive girls with conduct problems exhibited greater electrodermal responding than controls, with no differences in cardiovascular reactivity to incentives.
Observed sex differences in the autonomic correlates of conduct problems and aggression may suggest different etiological mechanisms of externalizing psychopathology for girls compared with boys.
conduct disorder; aggression; electrodermal responding; cardiac pre-ejection period; respiratory sinus arrhythmia
Most contemporary accounts of psychopathology acknowledge the importance of both biological and environmental influences on behavior. In developmental psychopathology, multiple etiological mechanisms for psychiatric disturbance are well recognized, including those operating at genetic, neurobiological, and environmental levels of analysis. However, neuroscientific principles are rarely considered in current approaches to prevention or intervention. In this article, we explain why a deeper understanding of the genetic and neural substrates of behavior is essential for the next generation of preventive interventions, and we outline 10 specific reasons why considering biological processes can improve treatment efficacy. Among these, we discuss (a) the role of biomarkers and endophenotypes in identifying those most in need of prevention; (b) implications for treatment of genetic and neural mechanisms of homotypic comorbidity, heterotypic comorbidity, and heterotypic continuity; (c) ways in which biological vulnerabilities moderate the effects of environmental experience; (d) situations in which Biology×Environment interactions account for more variance in key outcomes than main effects; and (e) sensitivity of neural systems, via epigenesis, programming, and neural plasticity, to environmental moderation across the life span. For each of the 10 reasons outlined we present an example from current literature and discuss critical implications for prevention.
Many depressed adolescents experience difficulty regulating their emotions. These emotion regulation difficulties appear to emerge in part from socialization processes within families and then generalize to other contexts. However, emotion dysregulation is typically assessed within the individual, rather than in the social relationships that shape and maintain dysregulation. In this study, we evaluated concordance of physiological and observational measures of emotion dysregulation during interpersonal conflict, using a multilevel actor-partner interdependence model (APIM). Participants were 75 mother-daughter dyads, including 50 depressed adolescents with or without a history of self-injury, and 25 typically developing controls. Behavior dysregulation was operationalized as observed aversiveness during a conflict discussion, and physiological dysregulation was indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Results revealed different patterns of concordance for control versus depressed participants. Controls evidenced a concordant partner (between-person) effect, and showed increased physiological regulation during minutes when their partner was more aversive. In contrast, clinical dyad members displayed a concordant actor (within-person) effect, becoming simultaneously physiologically and behaviorally dysregulated. Results inform current understanding of emotion dysregulation across multiple levels of analysis.
Emotion dysregulation; respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA); depression; dyadic conflict
In science, theories lend coherence to vast amounts of descriptive information. However, current diagnostic approaches in psychopathology are primarily atheoretical, emphasizing description over etiological mechanisms. We describe the importance of Polyvagal Theory toward understanding the etiology of emotion dysregulation, a hallmark of psychopathology. When combined with theories of social reinforcement and motivation, Polyvagal Theory specifies etiological mechanisms through which distinct patterns of psychopathology emerge. In this paper, we summarize three studies evaluating autonomic nervous system functioning in children with conduct problems, ages 4-18. At all age ranges, these children exhibit attenuated sympathetic nervous system responses to reward, suggesting deficiencies in approach motivation. By middle school, this reward insensitivity is met with inadequate vagal modulation of cardiac output, suggesting additional deficiencies in emotion regulation. We propose a biosocial developmental model of conduct problems in which inherited impulsivity is amplified through social reinforcement of emotional lability. Implications for early intervention are discussed.
Cardiac vagal control; Cardiac vagal tone; Respiratory sinus arrhythmia; Conduct disorder; Developmental psychopathology; Autonomic nervous system
In this study, we explore reward-based decision making and electrodermal responding (EDR) among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during a children’s gambling task. In addition, we examine whether individual behavioral and EDR responses predict social communication, repetitive symptoms, parent reports of executive function, and behavioral challenges. The ability to form advantageous strategies for long-term gain is of interest for children with ASDs, who exhibit both difficulty with executive function and atypical responses to reward. Twenty-one children ages 6–7 years with ASD and no intellectual disability and 21 age- and IQ-matched typically developing children participated. Both groups exhibited a similar pattern of gambling selections, but children with ASD showed less knowledge of the reward contingencies of the decks after playing. In addition, although EDR was similar between groups in anticipation of selections, children with ASD exhibited greater EDR during feedback about rewards as the task progressed. Children with ASD who exhibited the greatest increases in EDR were more likely to exhibit repetitive symptoms, particularly rituals and the need for sameness, as well as internalizing behaviors and reduced executive function in other settings.
autism; reward; executive function; decision-making; repetitive behavior; internalizing; electrodermal response
According to developmental theories of self-injury, both child characteristics and environmental contexts shape and maintain problematic behaviors. Although progress has been made toward identifying biological vulnerabilities to self-injury, mechanisms underlying psychosocial risk have received less attention.
In the present study, we compared self-injuring adolescents (n=17) with typical controls (n=20) during a mother-child conflict discussion. Dyadic interactions were coded using both global and microanalytic systems, allowing for a highly detailed characterization of mother-child interactions. We also assessed resting state psychophysiological regulation, as indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA).
Global coding revealed that maternal invalidation was associated with adolescent anger. Furthermore, maternal invalidation and coerciveness were both related to adolescent opposition/defiance. Results from the microanalytic system indicated that self-injuring dyads were more likely to escalate conflict, suggesting a potential mechanism through which emotion dysregulation is shaped and maintained over time. Finally, mother and teen aversiveness interacted to predict adolescent resting RSA. Low-aversive teens with highly aversive mothers had the highest RSA, whereas teens in high-high dyads showed the lowest RSA.
These findings are consistent with theories that emotion invalidation and conflict escalation are possible contextual risk factors for self-injury.
adolescent self-injury; conflict discussion; respiratory sinus arrhythmia; observational coding
Efficacies of the Incredible Years (IY) interventions are well established in children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), but not among those with a primary diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We sought to evaluate one-year follow-up outcomes among young children with ADHD who were treated with the IY interventions.
Four- to six-year-olds with ADHD (n=49, 73% males) participated in six months of treatment using the IY parent and child interventions.
Immediate post-treatment results indicated improvements in parenting, children’s externalizing and attention problems, and social contact at school. At one-year follow up, 22 of 27 variables that showed significant post-treatment effects demonstrated maintenance to one-year follow up. Children with higher ODD symptoms at baseline showed more improvement in oppositionality and total behavior problems, and their mothers showed more improvement on harsh discipline scores. Approximately 70–75% of children were reported by their parents and teachers to fall below clinical cut-offs on measures of externalizing symptoms at the one-year follow up (compared to 50% at baseline) and more than 50% fell below clinical cut-offs on measures of hyperactivity and inattentiveness (all were in the clinical range at baseline).
Children with ADHD who were treated with the IY parent and child treatment programs showed maintenance of treatment effects one year after treatment.
ADHD; treatment; follow-up; ODD
Self-inflicted injury (SII) in adolescence marks heightened risk for suicide attempts, completed suicide, and adult psychopathology. Although several studies have revealed elevated rates of depression among adolescents who self injure, no one has compared adolescent self injury with adolescent depression on biological, self-, and informant-report markers of vulnerability and risk. Such a comparison may have important implications for treatment, prevention, and developmental models of self injury and borderline personality disorder. We used a multi-method, multi-informant approach to examine how adolescent SII differs from adolescent depression. Self-injuring, depressed, and typical adolescent females (n = 25 per group) and their mothers completed measures of psychopathology and emotion regulation, among others. In addition, we assessed electrodermal responding (EDR), a peripheral biomarker of trait impulsivity. Participants in the SII group (a) scored higher than depressed adolescents on measures of both externalizing psychopathology and emotion dysregulation, and (b) exhibited attenuated EDR, similar to patterns observed among impulsive, externalizing males. Self-injuring adolescents also scored higher on measures of borderline pathology. These findings reveal a coherent pattern of differences between self-injuring and depressed adolescent girls, consistent with theories that SII differs from depression in etiology and developmental course.
Self-inflicted injury in adolescence indicates significant emotional and psychological suffering. Although data on the etiology of self-injury are limited, current theories suggest that the emotional lability observed among self-injuring adolescents results from complex interactions between individual biological vulnerabilities and environmental risk. For example, deficiencies in serotonergic functioning, in conjunction with certain family interaction patterns, may contribute to the development of emotional lability and risk for self-injury. The authors explored the relation between peripheral serotonin levels and mother–child interaction patterns among typical (n = 21) and self-injuring (n = 20) adolescents. Findings revealed higher levels of negative affect and lower levels of both positive affect and cohesiveness among families of self-injuring participants. Peripheral serotonin was also correlated with the expression of positive affect within dyads. Furthermore, adolescents’ serotonin levels interacted with negativity and conflict within dyads to explain 64% of the variance in self-injury. These findings underscore the importance of considering both biological and environmental risk factors in understanding and treating self-injuring adolescents.
self-injury; adolescent; serotonin; family; discussion
The association between maternal smoking during pregnancy and childhood antisocial outcomes has been demonstrated repeatedly across a variety of outcomes. Yet debate continues as to whether this association reflects a direct programming effect of nicotine on fetal brain development, or a phenotypic indicator of heritable liability passed from mother to child. In the current study, we examine relations between maternal smoking and child behavior among 133 women and their 7–15-year-olds, who were recruited for clinical levels of psychopathology. In order to disentangle correlates of maternal smoking, women who smoked during pregnancy were compared with (a) those who did not smoke, and (b) those who did not smoke but experienced significant second-hand exposure. Second-hand exposure was associated with increased externalizing psychopathology in participant mothers’ offspring. Moreover, regression analyses indicated that smoke exposure during pregnancy predicted conduct disorder symptoms, over and above the effects of income, parental antisocial tendencies, prematurity, birth weight, and poor parenting practices. This is the first study to extend the findings of externalizing vulnerability to second hand smoke exposure.
Maternal smoking; Conduct disorder; Aggression; Second hand smoke; ADHD
Comorbid conduct problems (CPs) and depression are observed far more often than expected by chance, which is perplexing given minimal symptom overlap. In this study, relations between parental psychopathology and children’s diagnostic status were evaluated to test competing theories of comorbidity. Participants included 180 families with an 8–12-year-old child diagnosed with CPs, depression, both conditions, or neither condition. Although no single theory of comorbidity was supported fully, evidence suggested that CPs and depression may be inherited separately. Paternal antisocial characteristics and maternal depression provided independent prediction of both child depression and CPs. However, paternal antisocial behavior moderated the effect of maternal depression on CPs. For children with antisocial fathers, CPs were observed regardless of maternal depression levels. In contrast, a strong relation was observed between CPs and maternal depression for children without antisocial fathers.
Family history; Comorbidity; Antisocial personality disorder; Conduct disorder; Depression
Over the past several decades, research has focused increasingly on developmental precursors to psychological disorders that were previously assumed to emerge only in adulthood. This change in focus follows from the recognition that complex transactions between biological vulnerabilities and psychosocial risk factors shape emotional and behavioral development beginning at conception. To date, however, empirical research on the development of borderline personality is extremely limited. Indeed, in the decade since M. M. Linehan initially proposed a biosocial model of the development of borderline personality disorder, there have been few attempts to test the model among at-risk youth. In this review, diverse literatures are reviewed that can inform understanding of the ontogenesis of borderline pathology, and testable hypotheses are proposed to guide future research with at-risk children and adolescents. One probable pathway is identified that leads to borderline personality disorder; it begins with early vulnerability, expressed initially as impulsivity and followed by heightened emotional sensitivity. These vulnerabilities are potentiated across development by environmental risk factors that give rise to more extreme emotional, behavioral, and cognitive dysregulation.
borderline personality disorder (BPD); developmental psychopathology; child; adolescent; self-inflicted injury
Opposing theories of striatal hyper- and hypodopaminergic functioning have been suggested in the pathophysiology of externalizing behavior disorders. To test these competing theories, the authors used functional MRI to evaluate neural activity during a simple reward task in 12- to 16-year-old boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and/or conduct disorder (n = 19) and in controls with no psychiatric condition (n = 11). The task proceeded in blocks during which participants received either (a) monetary incentives for correct responses or (b) no rewards for correct responses. Controls exhibited striatal activation only during reward, shifting to anterior cingulate activation during nonreward. In contrast, externalizing adolescents exhibited striatal activation during both reward and nonreward. Externalizing psychopathology appears to be characterized by deficits in processing the omission of predicted reward, which may render behaviors that are acquired through environmental contingencies difficult to extinguish when those contingencies change.
conduct disorder; ADHD; striatum; anterior cingulate cortex; fMRI