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Interactive contributions of self-regulation deficits and social motivation to psychopathology: Unraveling divergent pathways to aggressive behavior and depressive symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2013

Karen D. Rudolph*
University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign
Wendy Troop-Gordon
North Dakota State University
Nicole Llewellyn
University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Karen D. Rudolph, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820; E-mail:


Poor self-regulation has been implicated as a significant risk factor for the development of multiple forms of psychopathology. This research examined the proposition that self-regulation deficits differentially predict aggressive behavior and depressive symptoms, depending on children's social approach versus avoidance motivation. A prospective, multiple-informant approach was used to test this hypothesis in 419 children (M age = 8.92, SD = 0.36). Parents rated children's inhibitory control. Children completed measures of social approach–avoidance motivation and depressive symptoms. Teachers rated children's aggressive behavior. As anticipated, poor inhibitory control predicted aggressive behavior in boys with high but not low approach motivation and low but not high avoidance motivation, whereas poor inhibitory control predicted depressive symptoms in girls with high but not low avoidance motivation. This research supports several complementary theoretical models of psychopathology and provides insight into the differential contributions of poor self-regulation to maladaptive developmental outcomes. The findings suggest the need for targeted intervention programs that consider heterogeneity among children with self-regulatory deficits.

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