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J Abnorm Psychol. 2013 May;122(2):542-57. doi: 10.1037/a0031963.

Language ability predicts the development of behavior problems in children.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Prior studies have suggested, but not fully established, that language ability is important for regulating attention and behavior. Language ability may have implications for understanding attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorders, as well as subclinical problems. This article reports findings from two longitudinal studies to test (a) whether language ability has an independent effect on behavior problems, and (b) the direction of effect between language ability and behavior problems. In Study 1 (N = 585), language ability was measured annually from ages 7 to 13 years by language subtests of standardized academic achievement tests administered at the children's schools. Inattentive-hyperactive (I-H) and externalizing (EXT) problems were reported annually by teachers and mothers. In Study 2 (N = 11,506), language ability (receptive vocabulary) and mother-rated I-H and EXT problems were measured biannually from ages 4 to 12 years. Analyses in both studies showed that language ability predicted within-individual variability in the development of I-H and EXT problems over and above the effects of sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), and performance in other academic and intellectual domains (e.g., math, reading comprehension, reading recognition, and short-term memory [STM]). Even after controls for prior levels of behavior problems, language ability predicted later behavior problems more strongly than behavior problems predicted later language ability, suggesting that the direction of effect may be from language ability to behavior problems. The findings suggest that language ability may be a useful target for the prevention or even treatment of attention deficits and EXT problems in children.

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