Effortful control and externalizing problems in young adults

Kevin B. Meehan, Chiara De Panfilis, Nicole M. Cain, John F. Clarkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The present study evaluates the relationship between effortful control (EC) and externalizing psychopathology in young adults. EC, the capacity to delay immediate impulses in favor of long-term goals, has been robustly linked to externalizing behaviors in children and adolescents. However, such data is limited in adults, and mechanisms underlying this relationship have yet to be evaluated. We hypothesized that the effect of low EC on greater externalizing problems would be mediated by elevated psychological distress. In total 236 undergraduate students completed the EC subscale of the Adult Temperament Questionnaire, the Brief Symptom Inventory, and the Externalizing Spectrum Inventory (ESI). The ESI was found to have four factors representing Callous Aggression, Impulsive Urgency, prosocial control, and Substance Abuse. The degree to which low trait EC manifested in increased Callous Aggression, Impulsive Urgency and decreased prosocial behavior was mediated by elevated psychological distress. However, EC was not related to Substance Abuse. These data indicate that EC plays an important role in shaping psychological and social adjustment in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-558
Number of pages6
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • Aggression
  • Effortful control
  • Externalizing behaviors
  • Impulsivity
  • Psychological distress
  • Substance abuse
  • Temperament
  • Young adults


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