Personality traits in children predict numerous life outcomes. Although traits are generally stable, if there is personality change in youth, it could affect subsequent behavior in important ways. We found that the trait of urgency, the tendency to act impulsively when highly emotional, increases for some youth in early adolescence. This increase can be predicted from the behavior of young children: alcohol consumption and depressive symptom level in elementary school children (fifth grade) predicted increases in urgency 18 months later. Urgency, in turn, predicted increases in a wide range of maladaptive behaviors another 30 months later, at the end of the first year of high school. The mechanism by which early drinking behavior and depressive symptoms predict personality is not yet clear and merits future research; notably, the findings are consistent with mechanisms proposed by personality change theory and urgency theory.

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Published in Clinical Psychological Science, v. 5, issue 1, p. 85-97.

Elizabeth N. Riley and Gregory T. Smith, Childhood Drinking and Depressive Symptom Level Predict Harmful Personality Change, Clinical Psychological Science 5(1) pp. 85-97. Copyright © 2016 The Author(s). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702616661716

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The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse with the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R01 AA016166 to Gregory Smith and T32DA035200 Craig Rush.

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