Weak associations between pubertal timing and psychiatric and behavioral problems

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Pubertal development has been associated with adverse outcomes throughout adolescence and adulthood. However, much of the previous literature has categorized outcome variables and pubertal timing measures for ease of mean difference or odds ratio interpretation. We use a UK-representative sample of over 5000 individuals drawn from the Twins Early Development Study to extend this literature by adopting an individual differences approach and emphasizing effect sizes. We investigate a variety of psychiatric and behavioral measures collected longitudinally at ages 11, 14 and 16, for multiple raters and for males and females separately. In addition, we use two measures of pubertal development: the Pubertal Development Scale at each age, as well as the age of menarche for girls. We found that pubertal development, however assessed, was linearly associated with a range of psychiatric and behavioral outcomes; however, the effect sizes of these associations were modest for both males and females with most correlations between −0.10 and 0.10. Our systematic analysis of associations between pubertal development, and psychiatric and behavioral problems is the most comprehensive to date. The results showing linearity of the effects of pubertal development support an individual differences approach, treating both pubertal development and associated outcomes as continuous rather than categorical variables. We conclude that pubertal development explains little variance in psychiatric and behavioral outcomes (<1% on average). The small effect sizes indicate that the associations are weak and should not warrant major concern at least in non-clinical populations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Early online date18 Apr 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Apr 2017


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