The longitudinal association between infant negative emotionality, childhood maltreatment, and ADHD symptoms: A secondary analysis of data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study

Publication Year


Journal Article

Infant temperament predicts harsh parenting, and attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Moreover, childhood maltreatment has consistently been associated with later ADHD symptoms. We hypothesized that infant negative emotionality predicted both ADHD symptoms and maltreatment, and that there was a bidirectional association between maltreatment experiences and ADHD symptoms.

The study used secondary data from the longitudinal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2860). A structural equation model was conducted, using maximum likelihood with robust standard errors. Infant negative emotionality acted as a predictor. Outcome variables were childhood maltreatment and ADHD symptoms at ages 5 and 9.

The model demonstrated good fit (root-mean-square error of approximation = .02, comparative fit index = .99, Tucker–Lewis index = .96). Infant negative emotionality positively predicted childhood maltreatment at ages 5 and 9, and ADHD symptoms at age 5. Age 5 maltreatment/ADHD symptoms predicted age 9 ADHD symptoms/maltreatment. Additionally, both childhood maltreatment and ADHD symptoms at age 5 mediated the association between negative emotionality and childhood maltreatment/ADHD symptoms at age 9.

Given the bidirectional relationship between ADHD and experiences of maltreatment, it is vital to identify early shared risk factors to prevent negative downstream effects and support families at risk. Our study showed that infant negative emotionality, poses one of these risk factors.

Development and Psychopathology