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The Interplay of Social Competence and Psychopathology Over 20 Years: Testing Transactional and Cascade Models


  • This article is based on data collected as part of the Project Competence longitudinal study, which has been supported through grants to A.S.M., Auke Tellegen, and Norman Garmezy from the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Science Foundation (SBR-9729111), the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH33222), and the University of Minnesota. The authors express their deep appreciation to the participants for their many contributions to this endeavor over more than 20 years. Jelena Obradović is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

concerning this article should be addressed to Keith B. Burt, Department of Psychology, University of Vermont, 2 Colchester Drive, Burlington, VT 05405. Electronic mail may be sent to


Associations among internalizing, externalizing, and social competence were examined in a longitudinal cohort (N = 205) of 8- to 12-year-old children reassessed after 7, 10, and 20 years. Theoretically informed nested structural equation models tested interconnections among broad multi-informant constructs across four developmental periods. Follow-up analyses examined gender invariance, measurement and age effects, and putative common causes. Key model comparisons indicated robust negative paths from social competence to internalizing problems from childhood to adolescence and from emerging adulthood to young adulthood. Social competence and externalizing problems showed strong initial associations in childhood but no longitudinal cross-domain paths. Using a developmental psychopathology framework, results are discussed in relation to cascade and transactional effects and the interplay between competence and symptoms over time.