Destined for trouble?: a prospective analysis of the effects of temperament and parenting on conduct problems

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology, Clinical


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Jackson Goodnight


Researchers have suggested one developmental pathway to conduct problems in childhood from infant irritable temperament eliciting negative parenting behaviors (e.g., Bell, 1968; Paterson & Sanson, 1999; Patterson, 1986, 2002; Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Infants with an irritable temperament have been theorized to evoke more negative and hostile behaviors from parents (Patterson, 2002), and empirical evidence supports this link (e.g., Boivin et al., 2005; Van den Boom et al., 1994). Additional research suggests that negative parenting behaviors, such as inconsistent discipline, predict increases in conduct problems (Lengua & Kovacs, 2005). However, many studies assessing a transactional model of the development of conduct problems suffer limitations, including a lack of a fully prospective design. The present study improves upon previous research by using a fully prospective, sibling comparison design. The comparison of siblings allows for better control of confounding genetic and environmental variables. The present study used a subset of data from a large, nationally representative sample of mothers and their children. I first hypothesized that infant irritable temperament would predict conduct problems in mid-childhood. Second, I hypothesized that negative parenting practices (e.g., lack of maternal warmth, lack of learning stimulation, and harsh practices) would mediate the association between infant temperament and conduct problems. Finally, I tested this mediation model both between families (i.e., population analyses) and within families (i.e., sibling comparison). Results indicated that maternal responsiveness and learning stimulation mediated the association between infant irritable temperament and conduct problems in between-family, but not within-family, analyses. Harsh parenting was not found to mediate the association between temperament and conduct problems in between- or within-family analyses. However, within families, harsh parenting predicted later conduct problems. Finally, across all models, infant irritable temperament consistently predicted conduct problems. These findings suggest that passive gene-environment correlations or unassessed environmental factors account for the effects of temperament on conduct problems believed to be mediated by parenting.


Behavior disorders in children Environmental aspects, Mother and infant Research, Parenting Research, Behavioral assessment of children, Clinical Psychology, conduct problems, parenting, irritable temperament

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Copyright © 2016, author