The Contribution of Reinforcement Sensitivity to the Personality-Psychopathology Hierarchical Structure in Childhood and Adolescence

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Abstract

This study examined the contribution of reinforcement sensitivity to the hierarchical structure of child personality and common psychopathology in community samples of parent reports of children aged 2–18 (N = 968) and self-reports of adolescents aged 10–18 (N = 1,543) using the Inventory of Child Individual Differences–Short version (ICID-S), the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and the Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire (SPSRQ). A joint higher-order factor analysis of the ICID-S and SDQ scales suggested a 4-factor solution; congruence coefficients indicated replicability of the factors across the 2 samples at all levels of the personality-psychopathology hierarchy. The canonical correlation analyses indicated that reinforcement sensitivity and personality-psychopathology dimensions shared much of their variance. The main contribution of reinforcement sensitivity was through opposing effects of reward and punishment sensitivities. The superordinate factors Beta and Internalizing were best predicted by reinforcement sensitivity, followed by the Externalizing and Positive personality factors. These findings provide evidence for consistency of the hierarchical structure of personality and common psychopathology across informants and highlight the role of reinforcement systems in the development of normal and abnormal patterns of behavior and affect.

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