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Information processing profiles of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems: evidence from a population-based sample of preadolescents

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The present study explores the relationships between several information processing capacities and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in a general population sample of 10- to 12-year olds (N = 2,037 51% girls). Methods: 

Parent-reported behavior problems as assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist were used to form four groups of children with 1) neither internalizing nor externalizing problems (n = 1,470), 2) only internalizing problems (n = 237), 3) only externalizing problems (n = 182), and 4) both internalizing and externalizing problems (n = 148). These groups were compared on measures of speed and accuracy from the Amsterdam Neuropsychological Tasks program reflecting the efficiency of several input-, central cognitive-, and output-related information processing capacities. Results: 

Children with both internalizing and externalizing problems demonstrated the least efficient performance, followed by children with only externalizing problems, whereas children with only internalizing problems did not differ from children without problems. More specifically, response variability and the ability to maintain and quickly compare information in working memory were found to be related to the severity of problem behavior. The ability to inhibit prepotent responses was related to the type of problem behavior, discriminating between the children with only internalizing problems and only externalizing problems. However, this latter capacity no longer differentiated when controlling for IQ. No differences were found between boys and girls. Conclusions: 

The results suggest that, in general, cognitive processing deficits are more strongly related to the degree than to the type of maladaptive behavior. Furthermore, response variability and working memory may serve as potential markers for identifying high-risk children and response inhibition as an indicator of the type of maladaptive behavior.
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Keywords: ANT; cognitive performance; inhibition; psychopathology; response variability; working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychiatry and Graduate School of Behavioral and Cognitive Neurosciences, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands 2: Department of Clinical Child and Adolescent Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Leiden University, The Netherlands 3: Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: 2007-02-01

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