College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-23-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathryn E. Grant, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jocelyn Smith Carter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Patrick J. Fowler, Ph.D.


Intro: The transition from childhood to adolescence is a period of increased risk for psychological problems (e.g. Keiley, & Martin, 2002). Exposure to community violence, may impact the degree to which psychological problems emerge during adolescence (Grant et al., 2004). Previous research also indicates that low-income urban youth are disproportionately exposed to severe community violence, leaving them at higher risk to experience psychopathology (Grant et al., 2004). However, recent longitudinal research suggests that this elevated risk may decline throughout the adolescent years (Murphy et al., 2000) especially for internalizing problems (J. Twenge & S. Nolen-Hoeksema, 2002). The current research hypothesizes that youth that are exposed to high rates of severe community violence that increase with age, may view internalizing behaviors leaving them vulnerable to further victimization (Guerra et al., 2003, Ng-Mak et al., 2002). To protect themselves, youth most exposed may avoid expressing internalizing distress, instead becoming more likely to externalize.

Methods: The current study used multi-group growth curve models to examine the trajectories of internalizing problems and externalizing problems, respectively, comparing low-income urban youth in high and low exposure to violence groups. Symptoms were measured using broadband scales of psychopathology from Achenbach’s Youth Self-Report and Child Behavioral Checklist (2001). Exposure to Community Violence was measured using Exposure to Violence Survey--Screening Version (Martinez & Richters, 1993).

Results & Discussion: Results support the extant literature that indicates that low-income urban youth are at heightened risk for psychological problems. At wave 1, youth in our sample were more than twice as likely to report internalizing problems (33%) in the clinical range, compared to normative youth (16%). Risk of exhibiting externalizing behaviors was also elevated, with 20% of the sample scoring in the clinical range. Exposure to community violence, in particular, was also supported as a risk factor for psychological problems, as the high group demonstrated more of both types of psychopathology than the low group (as demonstrated by significant differences in intercept in the growth model). Comparison of trajectories (slopes) indicated that both internalizing and externalizing problems declined over time, a finding that was only partially supportive of our hypothesis. Additionally, negative trajectories for both outcomes were found in both the low and high exposure to violence groups, although the decline in internalizing problems was of greater magnitude for the high exposure to violence group, compared to the low group. No between-group differences in slope were found for externalizing problems. Results provide some support for the theory that youth that are exposed to rates of severe community violence that increase with age may avoid expressions of internalizing problems. However, clear support was not found for the hypothesis that these youth turn to externalizing behaviors as an alternative way of expressing psychological distress. Alternative hypotheses and explanations for our findings are discussed. Robust differences in findings were also found by reporter and are discussed.