Developmental Pathways Linking Childhood Temperament With Antisocial Behavior and Substance Use in Adolescence: Explanatory Mechanisms in the Peer Environment

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Abstract

This study investigated 3 developmental pathways involving the peer environment that may explain how certain temperamental dispositions in childhood may become manifested in later antisocial behavior and substance use. A total of 411 (52% boys) Canadian children were followed annually from ages 6 to 15 years. The study tested whether the temperamental traits approach, negative reactivity and attention (assessed at ages 6–7 years), were associated with overt antisocial behavior, covert antisocial behavior and illicit substance use (assessed at ages 14–15 years), via poor social preference among peers, inflated social self-perception and antisocial behavior of peer-group affiliates (assessed throughout ages 8–13 years). Results indicated that negative reactivity was indirectly associated with overt antisocial behavior and substance use via poor social preference. Specifically, negative reactivity in earlier childhood predicted poor social preference in later childhood and early adolescence. This poor social standing among peers, in turn, predicted more engagement in overt antisocial behavior but less substance use in later adolescence. Over and above the influence of social preference, negative reactivity predicted engagement in all 3 outcomes via children’s antisocial behavior in childhood and early adolescence. Inflated social self-perception and antisocial behavior of peer-group affiliates did not mediate the link between temperament and the outcomes under scrutiny. No sex differences in developmental pathways from temperament to the outcomes were found. To further our understanding of the developmental link between childhood temperament and later antisocial behavior and substance use, we need to recognize the role of peer environmental factors, specifically poor preference among peers.

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