A Meta-Analytic Review of the Association Between Pubertal Timing and Psychopathology in Adolescence: Are There Sex Differences in Risk?

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Research examining pubertal timing effects on psychopathology has emphasized that a subset of adolescents, particularly females, who experience early pubertal maturation relative to their peers appear to be at increased risk for psychopathology. The aims of the current meta-analysis were (a) to quantify the magnitude of early pubertal timing effects on psychopathology, (b) to examine potential moderators of pubertal timing effects (sex, psychopathology domain, sample composition, measurement method, and mean sample age), and (c) to examine findings in relation to hypotheses in the extant literature explicating differential pubertal timing effects for early versus late youth and males versus females. A systematic literature search was conducted in PubMed and PsycInfo databases and 101 articles met criteria for inclusion. Included studies reported a quantitative association between pubertal timing and higher-order broadband dimensions of psychopathology (i.e., internalizing, externalizing), and/or lower-order subdomains (i.e., distress, fear, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, eating pathology). Using meta-analytic methods, we estimated global effect sizes (Cohen’s ds) for the association between pubertal timing and psychopathology. Adolescent sex did not moderate early pubertal timing effects on emotional and behavior problems. However, robust early pubertal timing effects emerged for both males and females across all domains of psychopathology that were small in magnitude (ds∼.20). Measurement method of pubertal timing, but not sample composition or mean sample age, significantly contributed to the heterogeneity of effect sizes across studies. Findings have implications for refinement of theoretical models of pubertal timing effects on psychopathology and highlight the importance of empirical work that can identify pathways which may link offset pubertal timing to psychopathology during adolescence.

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