Disentangling Heterogeneity of Childhood Disruptive Behavior Problems Into Dimensions and Subgroups

Koen Bolhuis, Gitta H Lubke, Jan van der Ende, Meike Bartels, Catharina E M van Beijsterveldt, Paul Lichtenstein, Henrik Larsson, Vincent Wv Jaddoe, Steven A Kushner, Frank C. Verhulst, Dorret I Boomsma, Henning Tiemeier

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Irritable and oppositional behaviors are increasingly considered as distinct dimensions of oppositional defiant disorder. However, few studies have explored this multidimensionality across the broader spectrum of disruptive behavior problems (DBPs). This study examined the presence of dimensions and distinct subgroups of childhood DBPs, and the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between these dimensions.

METHOD: Using factor mixture models (FMMs), the presence of dimensions and subgroups of DBPs was assessed in the Generation R Study at ages 6 (n = 6,209) and 10 (n = 4,724) years. Replications were performed in two population-based cohorts (Netherlands Twin Registry, n = 4,402, and Swedish Twin Study of Child and Adolescent Development, n = 1,089) and a clinical sample (n = 1,933). We used cross-lagged modeling in the Generation R Study to assess cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between dimensions. DBPs were assessed using mother-reported responses to the Child Behavior Checklist.

RESULTS: Empirically obtained dimensions of DBPs were oppositional behavior (age 6 years), disobedient behavior, rule-breaking behavior (age 10 years), physical aggression, and irritability (both ages). FMMs suggested that one-class solutions had the best model fit for all dimensions in all three population-based cohorts. Similar results were obtained in the clinical sample. All three dimensions, including irritability, predicted subsequent physical aggression (range, 0.08-0.16).

CONCLUSION: This study showed that childhood DBPs should be regarded as a multidimensional phenotype rather than comprising distinct subgroups. Incorporating multidimensionality will improve diagnostic accuracy and refine treatment. Future studies need to address the biological validity of the DBP dimensions observed in this study; herein lies an important opportunity for neuroimaging and genetic measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)678-686
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Journal Article

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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