Impairment in learning from punishment (“punishment insensitivity”) is an established feature of severe antisocial behavior in adults and youth but it has not been well studied as a developmental phenomenon. In early childhood, differentiating a normal: abnormal spectrum of punishment insensitivity is key for distinguishing normative misbehavior from atypical manifestations. This study employed a novel measure, the Multidimensional Assessment Profile of Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), to examine the distribution, dimensionality, and external validity of punishment insensitivity in a large, demographically diverse community sample of preschoolers (3–5 years) recruited from pediatric clinics (N=1,855). Caregivers completed surveys from which a seven-item Punishment Insensitivity scale was derived. Findings indicated that Punishment Insensitivity behaviors are relatively common in young children, with at least 50 % of preschoolers exhibiting them sometimes. Item response theory analyses revealed a Punishment Insensitivity spectrum. Items varied along a severity continuum:most items needed to occur “Often” in order to be severe and behaviors that were qualitatively atypical or intense were more severe. Although there were item-level differences across sociodemographic groups, these were small. Construct, convergent, and divergent validity were demonstrated via association to low concern for others and noncompliance, motivational regulation, and a disruptive family context. Incremental clinical utility was demonstrated in relation to impairment. Early childhood punishment insensitivity varies along a severity continuum and is atypical when it predominates. Implications for understanding the phenomenology of emergent disruptive behavior are discussed.
- Item response theory
- Preschool disruptive behavior
- Punishment insensitivity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health