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Platt, Belinda; Sfärlea, Anca; Löchner, Johanna; Salemink, Elske; Schulte-Körne, Gerd (2023): The role of cognitive biases and negative life events in predicting later depressive symptoms in children and adolescents. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology. ISSN 2043-8087


Aims: Cognitive models propose that negative cognitive biases in attention (AB) and interpretation (IB) contribute to the onset of depression. This is the first prospective study to test this hypothesis in a sample of youth with no mental disorder.
Methods: Participants were 61 youth aged 9–14 years with no mental disorder. At baseline (T1) we measured AB (passive-viewing task), IB
(scrambled-sentences task) and self-report depressive symptoms. Thirty months later (T2) we measured onset of mental disorder, depressive symptoms and life events (parent- and child-report). The sample included children of parents with (n=31) and without (n=30) parental depression.
Results: Symptoms of depression at T2 were predicted by IB (ß=.35, p=.01) but not AB (ß=.05, p=.72) at T1. This effect was strongest for children who experienced multiple negative life events (F2,48=6.0, p=.018, ΔR2=.08). IB did not predict depressive symptoms at T2 over- and-above the effect of depressive symptoms at T1 (ß=.21, p=.13). Discussion: These findings suggest that IB (but not AB) plays an important role in the aetiology of depression. Modifying IB may have a preventive effect on youth depression, particularly for youth who experience negative life events. This prospective study provides important foundations for future experimental studies.

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