Developmental co-occurrence of psychopathology dimensions in childhood

Andrea G Allegrini, Toos van Beijsterveldt, Dorret I Boomsma, Kaili Rimfeld, Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Robert Plomin, Meike Bartels, Michel G Nivard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Comorbidity between psychopathologies may be attributed to genetic and environmental differences between people as well as causal processes within individuals, where one pathology increases risk for another. Disentangling between-person (co)variance from within-person processes of psychopathology dimensions across childhood could shed light on developmental causes of comorbid mental health problems. Cross-sectional data as well as standard models to investigate lagged effects conflate between-person and within-person processes. This makes it difficult to distinguish time invariant overarching (confounding) factors from temporal directed effects. Additionally, more recent random effects models make no allowance for direct temporal effects from one person to another. Here, we aim to determine whether and to what extent directional relationships between psychopathology dimensions within-person, and between individuals within families, play a role in multivariate comorbidity.

We investigated longitudinal data on measures of common psychopathologies from childhood to early adolescence (age 7 to 12), jointly estimating between-person and within person processes across time. We conducted random intercepts cross-lagged panel model (RI-CLPM) analyses to unravel the longitudinal co-occurrence of child psychopathology dimensions, and developed an extension of the model to estimate sibling effects within family (wfRI-CLPM). Analyses were separately conducted in two large population-based cohorts, the Twin Early Developmental Study and the Netherlands Twin Register, including parent-rated measures of child problem behaviours based on the SDQ and CBCL scales respectively.

We found evidence for strong between-person effects underlying the positive intercorrelation between problem behaviours across time. We further identified time-varying within-person processes accounting for an increasing amount of trait variance overtime, up to 11% for attention problems in TEDS, and up to 18% for attention problems and social problems in NTR. Lastly, by accommodating family-level data, we found evidence for reciprocal directional influences within sib-pairs longitudinally, from externalizing to internalizing problems, after accounting for similarities that arise through shared (genetic or environmental) influences. Co-occurrence of psychopathology dimensions in childhood

Our results indicate that within-person processes partly explain the co-occurrence of psychopathology dimensions in childhood, and within families, suggesting that both should be taken into account in developmental models of comorbidity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Early online date5 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Sept 2022

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