Author ORCID Identifier


Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Albert Farrell


The strong association between stressful life events and the wide-ranging spectrum of psychopathology has led some to advocate for the reconceptualization of traumatic stress. There has been a longstanding debate on whether these symptoms are best represented by using dimensional versus categorical approaches. Moreover, further understanding of the risk factors associated with various dimensions or patterns of comorbid emotional and behavioral problems could inform future research and intervention efforts. The current study tested competing variable- and person-centered approaches and examined how stressful life events are associated with different patterns of distress and externalizing symptoms among a predominantly African American and Latinx sample of early adolescents (M age= 12.9, 51% female) living in neighborhoods with high rates of violence. The study was conducted through secondary analysis of data collected from 2,722 early adolescents from a project that evaluated the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Gender differences in these relations were also explored. Results indicated that distress and externalizing symptoms were best represented as separate constructs yet were comorbid among subgroups of adolescents. Findings suggested that variable- and person-centered approaches provided important yet distinct information regarding the association between exposure to violent and nonviolent life stressors and distress and externalizing symptoms. Next steps should include the examination of protective factors that buffer the effects of life stressors on psychopathology, longitudinal analyses that examine moderators and mediators of these relations, as well as the development and examination of interventions aimed to reduce a range of symptoms post-trauma, including comorbid distress and externalizing symptoms.


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