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Structural models of psychopathology consistently identify internalizing (INT) and externalizing (EXT) specific factors as well as a superordinate factor that captures their shared variance, the p factor. Questions remain, however, about the meaning of these data-driven dimensions and the interpretability and distinguishability of the larger nomological networks in which they are embedded.
The sample consisted of 10 645 youth aged 9–10 years participating in the multisite Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. p, INT, and EXT were modeled using the parent-rated Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Patterns of associations were examined with variables drawn from diverse domains including demographics, psychopathology, temperament, family history of substance use and psychopathology, school and family environment, and cognitive ability, using instruments based on youth-, parent-, and teacher-report, and behavioral task performance.
p exhibited a broad pattern of statistically significant associations with risk variables across all domains assessed, including temperament, neurocognition, and social adversity. The specific factors exhibited more domain-specific patterns of associations, with INT exhibiting greater fear/distress and EXT exhibiting greater impulsivity.
In this largest study of hierarchical models of psychopathology to date, we found that p, INT, and EXT exhibit well-differentiated nomological networks that are interpretable in terms of neurocognition, impulsivity, fear/distress, and social adversity. These networks were, in contrast, obscured when relying on the a priori Internalizing and Externalizing dimensions of the CBCL scales. Our findings add to the evidence for the validity of p, INT, and EXT as theoretically and empirically meaningful broad psychopathology liabilities.
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