Contextual variation in young children's observed disruptive behavior on the DB-DOS: Implications for early identification

Amélie Petitclerc*, Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan, Ryne Estabrook, James L. Burns, Erica L. Anderson, Kimberly J. McCarthy, Lauren S. Wakschlag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background Contextual variation in child disruptive behavior is well documented but remains poorly understood. We first examine how variation in observed disruptive behavior across interactional contexts is associated with maternal reports of contextual variation in oppositional-defiant behavior and functional impairment. Second, we test whether child inhibitory control explains the magnitude of contextual variation in observed disruptive behavior. Methods Participants are 497 young children (mean age = 4 years, 11 months) from a subsample of the MAPS, a sociodemographically diverse pediatric sample, enriched for risk of disruptive behavior. Observed anger modulation and behavioral regulation problems were coded on the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observation Schedule (DB-DOS) during interactions with parent and examiner. Oppositional-defiant behavior, and impairment in relationships, with parents and nonparental adults, were measured with the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment (PAPA) interview with the mother. Functional impairment in the home and out-and-about was assessed with the Family Life Impairment Scale (FLIS), and expulsion from child care/school was measured with the baseline survey and FLIS. Results Observed disruptive behavior on the DB-DOS Parent Context was associated with oppositional-defiant behavior with parents, and with impairment at home and out-and-about. Observed disruptive behavior with the Examiner was associated with oppositional-defiant behavior with both parents and nonparental adults, impairment in relationships with nonparental adults, and child care/school expulsion. Differences in observed disruptive behavior in the Parent versus Examiner Contexts was related to the differences in maternal reports of oppositional-defiant behavior with parents versus nonparental adults. Children with larger decreases in disruptive behavior from Parent to Examiner Context had better inhibitory control and fewer attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Conclusions The DB-DOS showed clinical utility in a community sample for identifying contextual variation that maps onto reported oppositional-defiant behavior and functioning across contexts. Elucidating the implications of contextual variation for early identification and targeted prevention is an important area for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1008-1016
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • ADHD
  • Behavioral observation
  • DB-DOS
  • ODD
  • context sensitivity
  • developmentally sensitive assessment
  • disruptive behavior
  • early childhood
  • functional impairment
  • preschoolers
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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