Longitudinal predictors of competence among African American children. The role of distal and proximal risk factors

Ambika Krishnakumar, Maureen M. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In this investigation, we examined the influence of distal and proximal risk factors (family economic hardship, perceived neighborhood threats, intensity of negative life events, maternal alcohol abuse, maternal depression, and poor quality of the home environment) on child competence (externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors and cognitive performance) at ages 5 and 6. These complex interrelationships were examined using four explanatory statistical models: (a) independent-additive, (b) cumulative/exponential, (c) mediating, and (4) interactive. The sample included 217 African American mothers and their children recruited from primary care clinics serving low-income, urban families. Mothers and children participated in annual evaluations that included standardized developmental assessments, home observations, and questionnaires on demographics, children's behavior, and maternal and family functioning. Children demonstrated more behavior problems and scored lower on measures of cognitive performance than national norms at ages 5 and 6. Results supported the four statistical models (although to different degrees) on how and under what conditions distal and proximal risk factors were linked to child competence. Results indicated that distal and proximal risk factors predict cross-sectional models of competence but show limited long-term effect, partly due to the stability and maintenance of behaviors over time. Interventions to prevent behavioral and developmental problems among young children should begin early and target both distal and proximal risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-266
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2002


  • African American families
  • Child competence
  • Cognition
  • Distal and proximal risks
  • Internalizing and externalizing behavior
  • Risk models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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