The Role of Verbal Competence and Multiple Risk on the Internalizing Behavior Problems of Costa Rican Youth


Address for correspondence: Feyza Corapci, Ph.D., Psychology Department, Bogazici University, 34342 Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey. Voice: 90-212-359-7323; fax: 90-212-287-2472.


Abstract: This longitudinal study examined internalizing behavior problems (anxiety/depression) in early adolescence in relation to adversity in early childhood and child verbal competence. We hypothesized that verbal competence would act as a protective factor in the face of early adversity, that is, high verbal IQ would predict relatively lower internalizing problems in early adolescence primarily for those children who experienced the greatest adversity. The sample was based on 191 Costa Rican children and their mothers, who were recruited in infancy from an urban community and assessed again at 5 and 11–14 years. Families were generally lower-middle to working class. A total of 165 children (94 boys) participated in the early adolescent follow-up (mean age = 12.3 years). Internalizing problems were based on maternal report (Spanish Child Behavior Checklist). Our cumulative risk index (CRI)_of adversity in early childhood consisted of home environment quality (HOME score), socioeconomic status, maternal depressed mood (CESD), and maternal IQ. Controlling for the effects of age, gender, internalizing problems at 5 years, and verbal IQ at 5 years, there was a significant interaction between early adversity and verbal IQ at age 11–14 years in predicting internalizing problems in early adolescence. Youth with high verbal IQ had comparable levels of internalizing problems regardless of high or low adversity in early childhood. In contrast, youth with low verbal IQ received higher internalizing problem ratings if they experienced high adversity early in life. The results raise the possibility that interventions to improve verbal competence might help lower the risk of internalizing problems in the face of early adversity.