2011. Vol.2, No.3, 162-168
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.23026
Retrospective Assessments of Childhood Psychopathology by
Adults and Their Parents
Frederick L. Coolidge, Gina M. Tambone, Robert L. Durham, Daniel L. Segal
Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, USA.
Received January 22nd, 2011; revised March 9th, 2011; accepted April 10th, 2011.
The present study compared retrospective personality and psychopathological assessments of adults about their
childhood and adolescence with concurrent assessments by one of their parents. One-hundred three college stu-
dents (Mage = 23.1 years) and one of their parents (Mage = 51.2 years) completed a retrospective version of the
200-item, parent-as-respondent, Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory (R-CPNI). The median
internal scale reliabilities (Cronbach’s α) for all 46 scales of the R-CPNI were substantial for the adult retrospec-
tive (α = .78) and the parent retrospective versions (α = .79), and there was a strong correlation between the
adult and parent retrospective scale reliabilities (r = .88). To evaluate group differences, t tests revealed that the
parent means were significantly lower than the adult means on 45 of the 46 scales with mostly large effect sizes.
Principal components analyses of the scales for both adult and parent retrospective versions were strongly and
positively correlated (r = .88) for the total number of components extracted. These findings appear to support the
contention that retrospective assessments tend to be reliable and valid and that parents’ retrospective recollec-
tions of their children’s psychopathology tend to be more positive than the retrospective reports by the adults.
Based on these preliminary findings, it appears that the R-CPNI may provide a unique and interesting tool for
the retrospective measurement of psychopathology.
Keywords: Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory, R-CPNI, CPNI, Retrospective Assessment,
Studies of retrospection, as a method of research beginning
in the 1960s, sought to identify factors that influenced the de-
gree and nature of the correspondence between recollections
and substantiated facts. In general, it was found that retrospec-
tive presentations were generally accurate, but frequently bi-
ased by social desirability. Specifically, mothers tended to re-
port greater precocity in their children’s developmental mile-
stones and fewer difficulties (e.g., Yarrow, Campbell, & Burton,
1970). In another classic study, Wetzler and Sweeney (1986)
found that adults generally have no direct recall of experiences
that occurred during the first five years of their lives. After the
age of six, adult retrospective reports tend to become more
reliable and are generally thought to be more accurate. How-
ever, substantiated details tend to be forgotten while central
features of particular episodes are remembered (e.g., Sheingold
& Tenney, 1982). Additionally, episodic memories are more
likely to be accurate for experiences that are recent, distinctive,
and unique. Ironically, it has also been found that memories are
likely to be more accurate for experiences that are more fre-
quent, typical, and regular (e.g., Belli, 1988; Brewer, 1986;
Menon, 1994).
In a review of retrospective assessments of childhood psy-
chopathology, Brewin, Andrews, and Gotlib (1993) noted that
the retrospective assessment literature generally claimed that
autobiographical memories had both low reliability and validity,
that memory impairments were associated with specific types
of psychopathology, and that the mood state during recollection
biased recollections. In their review, however, Brewin et al.
concluded that all three claims were exaggerated. They found
that psychopathological adults did consistently report problem-
atic behaviors in childhood and adolescence. Another consistent
theme was parents’ recollections of their children were more
positive than the reports by the children themselves, by siblings,
or by independent observers (Parker, 1981; Robbins, 1963;
Schwartz, Barton-Henry, & Pruzinsky, 1985; Yarrow et al.,
1970). Brewin et al. interpreted this effect as a self-serving bias
in parents that minimized their own parental mistakes and
minimized problematic behaviors of their children. It is not
certain, however, whether adult recollections of their own
childhood psychopathological behaviors would be less positive
when compared to their parents’ recollections of these same
behaviors. One could argue that adults would be more accurate
in reporting on their own internal experiences (e.g., feelings of
depression, anxiety, or anger; negative thought patterns) than
would other raters of these same experiences. One could also
argue that the strongest factor in a response to a self-report test
item is simply the content of the item rather than social desir-
ability and self-serving biases (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 2008).
Henry, Moffitt, Caspi, Langley, and Silva (1994) examined
1,008 18-year-olds, both developmentally and retrospectively,
from the age of 3-years-old. Reports in seven different content
domains were also compared to parental and teacher reports.
They found that psychosocial variables, such as subjective
psychological states, produced the lowest level of agreement
between developmental and retrospective measures, and they
concluded that retrospective psychosocial measures should be
approached with caution. However, an examination of their
content domains revealed that many of the questions assessing
the domains were either non-specific (e.g., “…did you feel
depressed or anxious?” and “What was your general activity
level?”) or were coupled to specific age ranges (e.g., “Think
about emotions when you were about 9 to 11 years old.”). Not
surprisingly, correlations associated with questions of this na-
ture were all poor (e.g., r = –.02 to .11). However, when the
questions assessed more specific behaviors (e.g., shoplifting,
arrests as a juvenile, juvenile court appearances, etc.) or al-
lowed for a more general age range (e.g., “…prior to age 17”),
the correlations were deemed “moderately good” (p. 98), (i.e., r
= .39 to .48).
Hardt and Rutter (2004) performed a meta-analysis of 14
studies of retrospective recall and long-term reliability of ret-
rospective recall where the samples contained at least 40 par-
ticipants, and the participants were asked to report on early
childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, physical or emotional
neglect, or family discord. Interestingly, they concluded that
retrospective reports in adulthood of major adverse experiences
in childhood involved a substantial rate of false negatives
whereas false positives were probably rare. These biases, how-
ever, they purported, were not sufficient to invalidate retrospec-
tive studies of major adversities when the latter were reasona-
bly operationalized. It may be important to note, in their con-
clusions, that retrospective reports “to some extent” (p. 270)
produced associations with psychopathology that were biased
by clinical samples. They noted that some individuals who are
well-functioning in adult life might not come to the attention of
clinical researchers, and that these individuals may be more
likely to deny, forget, or overcome their adverse childhood
histories compared to those adults who did remember them and
were currently “suffering social impairment” (p. 270). In sum-
mary, a review of the latter two studies (Henry et al., 1994;
Hardt & Rutter, 2004) suggests that there are biases inherent in
retrospective psychological assessment, but validity is moder-
ately sufficient where the assessment is not bound to narrow
time periods and the behaviors to be assessed are adequately
specific and operationalized. In their literature review, Klonsky,
Oltmanns, and Turkheimer (2002) also suggested modest
agreement between self-reports and informants for personality
disorders, although they did not assess retrospective reports.
The purpose of the present study was to compare retrospec-
tive personality and psychopathological assessments of adults
about their childhood and adolescence (before the age of 15)
with the same assessments made by one of their parents in or-
der to investigate the psychometric reliabilities and the congru-
ence between their ratings. If a parental bias (i.e., halo effect) is
as consistent and substantial as the literature in this area sug-
gests, then it would be important to provide additional sources
of information about childhood behavior and to determine how
these additional sources vary from the traditional parental as-
sessments. Furthermore, diagnoses in clinical settings often
involve reports of earlier behaviors. For example, the diagnosis
of antisocial personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statis-
tical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR; American
Psychiatric Association, 2000) requires prior evidence of a
conduct disorder before the age of 15 years. Therefore, validat-
ing measures which help to assess childhood behaviors, espe-
cially retrospectively, may not only contribute to research and
theory in this area, but will also contribute to clinical practice.
In the present study, it was hypothesized that the personality
scales to be examined would be reliable (internal scale reliabil-
ity as determined by Cronbach’s α) for retrospective reports of
adults and their parents, that there would be a high positive
correlation between the adult and parent scales, and that the
parents’ retrospective reports would generally be lower (less
psychopathology). Additionally, it was hypothesized that a
principal components analysis (PCA) would reveal a similar
component structure (i.e., number of components extracted) and
a similar amount of variance accounted for by each component,
thus, ensuring a similarity in underlying component structures
in adult and parents assessments.
A total of 103 adult college students were recruited in their
psychology classes to participate for extra credit. There were 16
men and 87 women, ages 18 to 59 years, Mage = 23.1 years,
primarily Caucasian (72%), Hispanic (11%), African American
(8%), Asian or Pacific Islander (6%), and other (3%). The
marital status of the adult respondents at the time of participa-
tion was as follows: single (82%), married (14%), and divorced
(4%). These respondents then were asked to recruit the parent
most involved in their rearing. The parent respondent group
consisted of 12 men and 91 women, ages 38 to 80 years, Mage =
51.2 years, primarily Caucasian (78%), African American (7%),
Hispanic (6%), Asian or Pacific Islander (6%), and other (4%).
The marital status of the parents while the child was living at
home were as follows: married (80%), divorced, single, or
widowed (18%), and other (2%). The parents’ years of educa-
tion were as follows: less than a high school education (4%),
high school education (18%), some college (30%), and college
degree or greater (48%).
The adult respondents and their parents independently com-
pleted a retrospective version of the Coolidge Personality and
Neuropsychological Inventory (CPNI; Coolidge, 1998; Coo-
lidge, Thede, Stewart, & Segal, 2002). The CPNI is a standard-
ized measure of children’s and adolescents’ (ages 5-17 years)
psychological and neuropsychological functioning. The 200-item,
parent-as-respondent CPNI assesses (a) five Axis I syndromes
from the DSM-IV-TR (conduct disorder, oppositional defiant
disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], de-
pressive disorder, and overanxious disorder of childhood), (b)
nine personality disorders and their features (avoidant, border-
line, dependent, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive,
paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal) according to the criteria on
Axis II of DSM-IV-TR and two personality disorders in its ap-
pendix (passive-aggressive and depressive; [Note: antisocial
personality disorder is not assessed by the CPNI as a personal-
ity disorder because it requires a minimum age of 18 years,
however, in the present study, the Axis I conduct disorder is
included as an Axis II personality disorder]), (c) three neuro-
psychological-behavioral syndromes including mild neurocog-
nitive disorder (in the appendix of DSM-IV-TR), general neuro-
psychological dysfunction, and executive function deficits (and
its three subscales: Decision-Making, Metacognitions [Lan-
guage-Memory-Learning], and Social Judgment), and (d) four
clinical scales, Dangerousness, Aggression, Emotional Lability,
and Disinhibition. The CPNI also includes a 3-item scale, An-
tisocial Triumvirate, which assesses bed-wetting, fire-setting,
and cruelty to animals. The CPNI uses a 4-point Likert-type
scale ranging from 1 (strongly false) to 4 (strongly true). The
CPNI normative sample consists of 780 children, ages 5 to 17
years, 30 boys and 30 girls at each age level. The 11 personality
disorder scales have a median internal scale reliability of .71
and a median test-retest reliability of .81 (four to six week in-
terval). The five Axis I scales have a median internal scale re-
liability of .81 and a median test-retest reliability of .87. The
three neuropsychological scales have a median internal scale
reliability of .91 and a median test-retest reliability of .83. The
four clinical scales have a median internal scale reliability
of .78 and a median test-retest reliability of .87.
The general construct validity of the CPNI scales has been
demonstrated in a variety of clinical and non-clinical empirical
studies including children with ADHD (Coolidge, Starkey, &
Cahill, 2007), children with conduct disorders and ADHD
(Coolidge, Thede, & Young, 2000), children with executive
function deficits (Coolidge, Thede, & Jang, 2004), bullies
(Coolidge, DenBoer, & Segal, 2004), children with personality
disorders and their features (Coolidge, Thede, & Jang, 2001),
children with borderline personality disorder features (Coolidge,
Segal, Stewart, & Ellett, 2000), children in the autistic spectrum
(Thede & Coolidge, 2006), children with gender identity disor-
der (Coolidge, Thede, & Young, 2002), and children with
chronic nightmares (Coolidge, Segal, Coolidge, Spinath, &
Gottschling, 2009).
The retrospective versions of the CPNI (R-CPNI), for self
and for parents, were rewritten versions of the CPNI to assess
behaviors of the adult respondents when they were children
before the age of 15. All of the questions remained the same,
but the language was changed to reflect retrospection. The R-
CPNI contains (a) six Axis I syndromes from the DSM-IV-TR
(ADHD, gender identity disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,
major depressive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and
separation anxiety disorder), (b) ten personality disorders and
their features (avoidant, borderline, conduct disorder [see fol-
lowing note], dependent, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-
compulsive, paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal) and two personal-
ity disorders in its appendix (passive-aggressive and depres-
sive), (c) two neuropsychological-behavioral syndromes in-
cluding mild neurocognitive disorder (in the appendix of
DSM-IV-TR) and post-concussional disorder, (d) two eating
disorder scales (Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa), (e)
seven clinical scales (Emotional Coldness, Emotional Problems,
Psychotic Thinking, Sleep Disturbances, Social Anxiety, Social
Withdrawal, and Somatic Problems), (f) six neuropsychological
dysfunction scales (Language Problems, Learning Problems,
Memory Problems, Perceptual Motor Integration Problems,
Subcortical Symptoms and Tics, and Maturational Delay), (g)
three executive functions deficit scales (Decision-Making,
Metacognitions, and Social Judgment) (h) two dangerousness
scales (Antisocial Triumvirate and Dangerousness), and (i) a
Denial scale. It should be noted that among the personality
disorders, conduct disorder is assessed as an Axis II personality
disorder in place of antisocial personality disorder because the
DSM-IV-TR requires that a person be 18 years of age or older to
be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
Volunteer participants were given two separate packets of
materials which each included the informed consent, either the
self-report or parent version of the R-CPNI, and a debriefing
statement. The participants were instructed to complete their
forms at home, but separate from their parents. They were fur-
ther instructed to inform their parents to seal their packets after
completion and to return both packets to the experimenter to
receive their extra credit.
A summary of analyses for all scales of the R-CPNI appears
in Table 1. The median internal scale reliabilities (Cronbach’s α)
for all 46 scales of the R-CPNI were substantial for both the
adult (α = .78, range α = .44 to .94) and the parent retrospective
versions (α = .79, range α = .24 to .94). For the personality
disorders, all of the α’s were .63 or above with the exception of
the Schizoid scale. Besides the Schizoid scale, the lowest scale
reliabilities were associated with scales with the fewest items.
For example, the two 3-item scales (Subcortical and Antisocial
Triumvirate) had adult and parent scale reliabilities ranging
from .24 to .45. There was, however, a notable exception; the
only 2-item scale (Memory Problems) yielded reliabilities of α
= .85 and α = .86 for the adult and parent retrospective versions,
respectively. Overall, the adult and parent internal scale reli-
abilities were remarkably similar. The correlation between the
46 scale reliabilities between adults and parents was r = .89, p
< .001.
Table 1 also presents a summary of t tests (and effect sizes)
performed between the adult and parent means on the 46 scales.
It is interesting to note that there were significant differences
between the means on 45 of the 46 scales (with the exception of
the Maturational Delay scale), and without exception, the adult
means were higher than the parent means. With respect to ef-
fect sizes, 38 of the 46 scales yielded a large effect size, 4
yielded medium effect sizes, 3 yielded small effect sizes, and
only 1 scale (Maturational Delay) did not meet the minimum
for a small effect size. A summary of the correlations between
the adult and parent means on the 46 scales also appears in
Table 1. The median correlation between the two sets of scores
for the 12 personality disorder scales was r (10) = .44, and the
median correlation across the 46 scales was r (44) = .47.
Table 2 presents a summary of the PCA (PASW 17.0) for the
12 personality disorder scales of the adult and parent versions
(as these are the only scales of the R-CPNI that contain every
explicit criterion from the DSM-IV-TR). As can be seen in Ta-
ble 2, there was a strong positive correlation [r(12) = .88, p
< .001] between the total number of components extracted be-
tween the two versions. The percentages of variance accounted
for by the components between the two versions were also
positively correlated [r (12) = .45, p = .14].
As noted previously, the CPNI contains a Denial scale,
which assesses the tendency of a parent to deny psychopa-
thology on 191 of the 200 CPNI items. The R-CPNI Denial
scale mean (276.60, SD = 62.95) for the parents was signifi-
cantly lower than the mean for the adults (329.03, SD = 65.79)
with a large effect size. The normative mean on the Denial
scale for the CPNI is (306.70, SD = 56.00).
An additional comparison was made between the adult and
parent retrospective means on the 21 primary R-CPNI scales
(without subtypes or subscales) and the means on these 21
scales from the normative CPNI data obtained from contempo-
rary ratings of 780 parents of their children ages 5 to 17 years
(see Table 3 for a summary of the scale mean T scores). These
results indicated that adults retrospectively assessing their own
childhood behavior (M = 52.71 of the 21 scales) did not differ
significantly from the ratings of the CPNI normative parents
assessing their children’s behavior (M = 50.00), t(20) = 1.64, p
= .118, although the parents’ retrospective ratings of their chil-
dren (M = 46.17) were significantly lower than the CPNI nor-
mative parents’ ratings, t(20) = 3.28, p = .004, and the par-
ents’ retrospective ratings were also significantly lower than the
adult retrospective ratings of their own childhood, t(20) = 6.89,
p < .0005.
Table 1.
A Summary of the Psychometrics of the R-CPNI Scales and Subscales for Adult and Parent Versions.
Adult Retrospective
Parent Retrospective
Items in
Scale M SDStd*
Alpha M SDStd
Alpha N r p N t p r**
DSM-IV-TR Axis I Scales (including subtypes)
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 18 30.978.57.88 25.988.18.90 103.45< .001 103 5.89 < .001.50
ADHD Inattention Type 9 15.845.40.87 13.515.21.89 103.47< .001 103 4.43 < .001.40
ADHD Hyperactivity-Impulsivity Type 9 12.473.87.78 103.38< .001 103 5.99 < .001.51
Gender Identity Disorder 6 7.362.46.87 103.48< .001 103 5.57 < .001.48
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 12 19.736.59.86 103.54< .001 103 7.14 < .001.58
Major Depressive Disorder 15 28.378.26.87 23.477.04.87 103.51< .001 103 6.57 < .001.55
Oppositional Defiant Disorder 8 13.984.26.80 103.46< .001 103 4.46 < .001.40
Separation Anxiety Disorder 8 13.344.51.84 11.383.88.82 103.46.00 103 4.47 < .001.40
Median .84 .87 .47
Personality Disorder Scales (including subtypes)
Avoidant 7 15.365.04.88 12.474.60.85 103.49< .001 103 6.01 < .001.51
Borderline 9 103.44< .001 103 6.34 < .001.53
Conduct Disorder 15 16.613.19.80 103.44< .001 103 5.72 < .001.49
Conduct Disorder – Aggressive 7 8.372.09.66 7.631.55.58 103.48< .001 103 3.91 < .001.36
Conduct Disorder – Delinquent 8 10.683.31.74 8.982.00.70 103.37< .001 103 5.44 < .001.47
Dependent 8 12.743.71.72 103.37< .001 103 6.17 < .001.52
Depressive 7 15.844.82.84 12.994.22.82 103.56< .001 103 6.75 < .001.56
Histrionic 8 12.983.97.79 103.46< .001 103 5.38 < .001.47
Narcissistic 9 15.783.95.75 12.363.55.79 103.40< .001 103 8.41 < .001.64
Obsessive-Compulsive 8 16.564.15.67 13.774.09.73 103.46< .001 103 6.64 < .001.55
Paranoid 7 103.40< .001 103 7.10 < .001.58
Passive-Aggressive 7 12.693.66.75 10.923.27.74 103.33= .001 103 4.47 < .001.40
Schizoid 7 12.152.84 .47 11.443.17.50 103.43< .001 103 2.23 0.03 .22
Schizotypal 10 103.38< .001 103 6.78 < .001.56
Median .75 .76 .44
DSM-IV-TR Appendix Scales
Mild Neurocognitive Disorder 16 24.877.66.90 21.767.06.90 103.57< .001 103 4.72 < .001.42
Postconcussional Disorder 17 34.729.68.89 28.649.05.90 103.51< .001 103 6.64 < .001.55
Median .90 .90 .54
Eating Disorder Scales
Anorexia Nervosa 4 103.62< .001 103 4.46 < .001.40
Bulimia Nervosa 6 8.893.50.80 7.793.07.79 103.48< .001 103 3.29 = .001.31
Median .72 .74 .57
Clinical Scales
Emotional Coldness 4 5.951.83.54 5.571.92.71 103.52< .001 103 2.14 .03 .21
Emotional Problems 10 17.725.82.87 103.55< .001 103 6.27 < .001.53
Psychotic Thinking 9 14.914.71.80 11.573.07.76 103.40< .001 103 7.60 < .001.60
Sleep Disturbances 7 11.613.56.60 9.633.27.72 103.39< .001 103 5.35 < .001.47
Social Anxiety 11 18.456.28.88 103.51< .001 103 7.11 < .001.58
Social Withdrawal 11 21.616.28.86 17.745.58.85 103.51< .001 103 6.74 < .001.56
Somatic Problems 6 8.342.50.57 103.36< .001 103 5.26 < .001.46
Median .80 .76 .51
Neuropsychological Dysfunction Scales
Overall Neuropsychological Dysfunction 38 58.2915.34.93 50.7013.67.92 103.54< .001 103 5.67 < .001.49
Language Problems 5 6.942.40.70 5.861.84.67 103.42< .001 103 4.73 < .001.42
Learning Problems 4 5.482.03.77 103.63< .001 103 3.90 < .001.36
Memory Problems 2 3.571.63.85 2.931.33.86 103.42< .001 103 3.94 < .001.36
Perceptual Motor Integration Problems 4 5.351.86.67 4.751.38.40 103.43< .001 103 3.62 < .001.34
Subcortical Symptoms and Tics 3 3.591.14.24 103.36< .001 103 4.29 < .001.39
Maturational Delay 5 5.831.41.51 5.781.48.51 103.56< .001 103 .29 .77 .03
Median .70 .67 .43
Adult Retrospective
Parent Retrospective
Items in
Scale M SDStd*
Alpha M SDStd
Alpha N r p N t p r**
Executive Functioning
Overall Executive Dysfunction 44 75.4919.77.94 64.3718.45.94 103.54< .001 103 6.25 < .001.53
Decision Making Subscale 11 17.936.15.87 103.48< .001 103 3.98 < .001.37
Language-Memory-Learning Subscale 23 36.2210.93.92 30.919.57.91 103.57< .001 103 5.75 < .001.49
Social Judgment Subscale 10 18.985.16.76 15.524.74.80 103.38< .001 103 6.42 < .001.54
Median .89 .89 .51
Dangerousness Scale
Antisocial Triumvirate 3 103.17.09 103 5.86 < .001.50
Dangerousness 17 22.895.02.81 103.52< .001 103 2.11 .04 .20
Median .63 .61 .35
Overall Median .47
Validity Scales
Denial 191 329.0365.79.97 276.6062.95.98 103.49< .001 103 8.27 < .001.63
* Standardized; ** r represents the correlation of effect size; minimum value for small = .10, medium = .24, large = .37.
Table 2.
A Summary of the Principal Components Analyses for the R-CPNI between Adult and Parent Versions for the 12 Personality Disorder Scales.
Total Number of
Components Extracted
Percentage of Variance
Explained by First
Percentage of Variance
Explained by Second
Percentage of Variance
Explained by Third
Total Percentage of
Variance Explained for all
Extracted Components
Personality Disorder
Adult Parent Adult Parent Adult Parent Adult Parent Adult Parent
Avoidant 1 1 — — — — — — 57 53
Borderline 2 3 31 22 18 20 — 19 48 62
Conduct Disorder 6 5 16 15 13 15 13 14 72 67
Dependent 3 3 24 29 20 23 14 14 57 66
Depressive 1 2 — 34 — 29 — — 51 63
Histrionic 3 2 22 32 20 23 20 — 62 55
Narcissistic 3 3 24 25 19 19 16 18 59 62
Obsessive-Compulsive 3 2 25 27 20 23 14 — 59 49
Paranoid 1 1 — — — — — — 42 46
Passive-Aggressive 2 2 29 32 26 24 — — 55 56
Schizoid 3 3 27 24 17 23 16 16 61 64
Schizotypal 3 3 27 21 17 20 15 17 59 58
The present findings appear to confirm the primary hypothe-
sis that personality disorder features, clinical disorders, and
neuropsychological scales of a retrospective version of the
CPNI would be internally reliable for both adult and parent
versions. As noted previously, the median reliability coeffi-
cients for the adult and parent retrospective versions were α
= .78 and α = .79, respectively, across all 46 scales and sub-
scales. Interestingly, and also as hypothesized, the parents’
scale means were significantly lower than the adult retrospec-
tive means with only one exception, and most differences had
large effect sizes (38 of 46 scales). In many respects, the latter
finding is consistent with the early literature that suggested
parents viewed their children’s behaviors more favorably in
retrospect. As noted earlier, Brewin et al. (1993) proposed that
this effect may have been a self-serving bias in parents that
minimized their parental mistakes, perhaps leading them to feel
less guilty or inadequate as parents. Whether this process is
intentional or out of conscious awareness is a topic for further
There was also evidence that the retrospective assessments of
the adults were not significantly different from those by parents
who were contemporarily rating their children’s behavior. Fur-
thermore, there was additional evidence that the parents’ retro-
spective ratings of their children produced some “halo effect,”
as their ratings were shown to be significantly lower than par-
ents who were contemporarily rating their children’s behavior.
Nevertheless, we might argue that given the great similarities
between the underlying component structures between the par-
ent and adult retrospective scales, the parents’ retrospective
evaluations possess sufficient construct validity for valid psy-
chopathological assessment. Evidence for the general similarity
between the ratings also comes from the moderate to strong
correlations between adults and parents retrospective mean
ratings. For example, the median correlation for the 12 person-
ality disorder scales between the two sets of scores of r = .44 is
similar to research of married people’s self and spouses ratings
of 13 personality disorders, which found a median correlation
of r = .46 (Coolidge, Burns, & Mooney, 1995). It may also
important to note a recent study (Leising, Erbs, & Fritz, 2010)
found that the halo effect may not be unique to parental reports
or child-parent dyads. Leising et al. determined that informants
who “liked” the targets described them more positively, while
informants who simply had knowledge of the targets described
them with somewhat better accuracy.
There are a number of issues for interpreting the present data.
One major issue appears to be whether adult retrospective as-
sessments might have a tendency to over-pathologize their
childhood behavior. It does seem clear, however, that parents’
retrospective evaluations of their children’s behavior have a
tendency to under-pathologize, although the adult retrospective
and parent retrospective evaluations remain well within a stan-
dard deviation of parents rating the current psychopathology of
their children. Certainly adjunct contemporary behavioral as-
sessments would be important in assessing whether parents
have a tendency to under-pathologize their children’s current
behavior. Longitudinal studies are needed to more explicitly
address these issues.
In summary, the present findings support the earlier claims of
Brewin et al. (1993) that retrospective assessments tend to be
reliable and valid and that parents’ recollections of their adult
children’s psychopathology tends to be more positive than ret-
rospective reports by the adults. The present study also rein-
forces recent claims by Leising et al. (2010), as noted earlier,
that informants who were fond of the people they were de-
scribing described them more positively, regardless of whether
they were the parents of the targets. The present findings are
also consistent with the meta-analysis by Hardt and Rutter
(2004) of the reliability and validity of retrospective recall,
where they found sufficient evidence for the general validity of
retrospective evaluations. Two of their findings and those by
Henry et al. (1994) bear further attention. First, future studies
may wish to address the potential artifact that those who do not
deny, forget, or overcome their adverse childhood histories are
more likely to remember them than adults without adverse his-
tories. Second, consistent with the findings of Hardt and Rutter
and Henry et al., it may be that retrospective assessment may
increase in reliability and validity where broader time periods
are evaluated and the assessed behaviors are clearly specified
and operationalized.
The present study is limited by choosing a sample of con-
venience: mostly young women Caucasian college students
with a psychology major. It might be expected that such as
sample would result in a restricted range of psychopathology,
but an examination of the data (i.e., Table 3) revealed sufficient
levels of psychopathology for particular disorders and sufficient
variation across disorders. There is also the possibility that
some of the parents, although they sealed their packets after
completing the inventory, and they were all instructed to com-
plete the inventories independently, some may have skewed
their reports knowing the adult was responsible for returning
both sealed packets to the experimenter. Future studies may
wish to correct for this potential confounding by having the
parents return the packets directly to the experimenter and in-
cluding a validity check. It might also be useful if future studies
were conducted upon a variety of clinical samples, such as
adults with ADHD, or if future studies examined whether agree-
ment from the sources varied in other personality domains be-
sides psychopathology, e.g., extraversion-introversion, warmth,
boldness, affiliation, etc. Additionally, because of the likeli-
hood that parents are not necessarily equal in their abilities to
rate their children, future research might include both parents as
Table 3.
Mean T scores for 21 Primary R-CPNI Scales.
Scale Adult Parent
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder 46.40 41.31
Avoidant Personality Disorder (PD) 59.60 51.34
Borderline PD 52.76 44.73
Conduct Disorder 49.48 44.40
Dependent PD 53.51 46.40
Depressive PD 57.54 49.40
Executive Functioning 48.99 43.14
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 58.62 49.66
Gender Identity Disorder 57.61 49.83
Histrionic PD 53.03 47.17
Major Depressive Disorder 52.30 45.94
Mild Neurocognitive Disorder 47.75 43.71
Narcissistic PD 51.35 43.40
Neuropsychological Dysfunction 47.98 43.05
Obsessive-Compulsive PD 53.82 45.36
Oppositional Defiant Disorder 47.07 42.96
Paranoid PD 56.68 47.06
Passive-Aggressive PD 49.69 44.63
Separation Anxiety Disorder 54.21 49.18
Schizotypal PD 57.20 48.37
Schizoid PD 51.35 48.62
Mean 52.71 46.17
* The mean T score of the CPNI normative sample for all scales is 50 (SD = 10).
raters and also assess the time of parental contact raising their
children. Despite these limitations and an apparent tendency of
parents to view their children retrospectively in a more positive
light, it appears, based on these preliminary findings, the
R-CPNI may provide an interesting tool for the retrospective
measurement of psychopathology.
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