Dimensions of internalizing symptoms are stable across early adolescence and predicted by executive functions: Longitudinal findings from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study

Maria Vedechkina, Marc P. Bennett, Joni Holmes

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Early adolescence is characterized by rapid changes in executive function and increased vulnerability to internalizing difficulties. The aim of this study was to explore whether internalizing symptoms are stable across early adolescence and to identify possible links with executive function. Using data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study (ABCD), we identified four dimensions of internalizing symptoms from item-level ratings on the Child Behavior Checklist at ages 10 (n = 10,841) and 12 (n = 5,846), with an invariant factor structure across time. These dimensions corresponded to anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and somatic problems. We then examined associations between these dimensions and three aspects of executive function at age 10 measured by the NIH Toolbox: inhibition, shifting and working memory. Worse shifting and inhibition at age 10 was associated with elevated symptoms of anxiety and withdrawal cross-sectionally, while poor inhibition was also uniquely associated with symptoms of depression. Longitudinal associations were more limited: Worse inhibition at age 10 predicted greater symptoms of withdrawal at age 12, while worse shifting predicted fewer symptoms of anxiety 2 years later. These findings suggest that poor executive function in early adolescence is associated with greater internalizing difficulties and poor inhibition may contribute to later social withdrawal.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Early online date5 Jun 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jun 2023

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