Externalising problems (EPs) in childhood and adolescence, such as aggressive, oppositional, attentional and hyperactivity problems, are widespread, persistent and costly to society. Children and adolescents with EPs are at higher risk of school drop-out, engaging in crime and violence, and developing mental health and substance-use problems in adulthood. To reduce these problems and their related costs, we need to better understand how EPs are interrelated and what risk factors they share that can be targeted in interventions to potentially prevent several EPs simultaneously.
Recent research suggests that a number of cognitive abilities, related to self-regulation and frontal areas of the brain, may be associated with many EPs, but little is known about how these abilities are associated with EPs across development and environmental contexts. Thus, the proposed research program aims to better understand a) how these EPs and cognitive abilities are associated across development (childhood and adolescence) and b) how they are affected by family environment (e.g. parenting and parent-child relationships).These main objectives are addressed within three research projects: two studies that follow children and adolescents over several years (study one follows adolescents annually from 13 to 18 years and study 2 follows children, every six months, from 4 to 8 years) and one intervention study (study 3) on a subsample of children from study 2. T
his programme of research provides a unique opportunity to determine whether certain cognitive abilities are common risk factors for EPs, and whether they remain so across development (childhood and adolescence) and different family environments. These results could potentially provide key information relating to the feasibility and usefulness of targeting these cognitive abilities through intervention, for which children and families, and when best to intervene.