Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 961–975 | Cite as

Associations between Prosocial and Problem Behavior from Early to Late Adolescence

  • Laura M. Padilla-Walker
  • Madison K. Memmott-Elison
  • Sarah M. Coyne
Empirical Research


Though recent research has highlighted prosocial behavior as negatively associated with problem behavior during adolescence, we know little about how these variables might be associated longitudinally, whether there are bidirectional effects, and whether there might be different patterns of co-occurrence of behaviors for different individuals. Thus, the current study examined relations between prosocial and problem behaviors in three different ways in an attempt to better understand these associations. Participants included 500 adolescents recruited from a Northwestern state in the USA who took part in the study every year from age 12 to 18 (50% female, 67% European American). Growth curve analyses suggested that change in prosocial behavior was negatively associated with change in aggression and delinquency over time. A longitudinal panel model suggested that prosocial behavior and aggression were negatively associated bidirectionally, and that prosocial behavior was negatively associated with delinquency over time. Finally, mixture modeling conducted at ages 12, 15, and 18 revealed heterogeneity in the ways in which prosocial and problem behaviors co-occur. The discussion focuses on the complexity of interrelations between prosocial behavior and problem behavior across adolescence.


Prosocial behavior Aggression Delinquency Adolescence Longitudinal 



We thank the Family Studies Center at BYU, the School of Family Life, and the College of Family Home and Social Science at BYU, and we recognize the generous support of the many private donors who provided support for this project. We also thank those families who were willing to spend valuable hours with our team in interviews, and the many students who assisted in conducting the interviews.

Author Contributions

L.P.W. conceived of the study, organized its design and coordination, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript. M.M.E. helped draft the manuscript. S.C. helped to conceive of the study and draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura M. Padilla-Walker
    • 1
  • Madison K. Memmott-Elison
    • 1
  • Sarah M. Coyne
    • 1
  1. 1.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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