Associations Among Exposure to Adversity, Stress Reactivity, Cognitive Self-Regulatory Functioning, and Depression Symptoms in Middle School Youths
Coaxum, Rachel Ann
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AbstractIdentifying and understanding the pathways of risk and maintenance for child and adolescent (youth) depression has been a significant focus in the field of clinical psychological science. Although extensive research has documented associations between adversity and depression in youths, it is unclear how adversity-related risk factors may uniquely or jointly relate to deficits in youth functioning in domains such as self-regulation that often accompany depression. The present study examined the nature and strength of associations among youths’ depression symptom levels and (1) exposure to adversity across the domains of threat and economic deprivation (2) cognitive self-regulatory capability in the form of working memory and attentional control, and (3) physiological regulation in the form of electrodermal activity (EDA) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Participants were 117 middle-school youths (6th - 8th grade, 54.7% male, mean age = 12.74 years) from the greater Boston area. Study results indicated that greater exposure to adversity across the two domains and poorer cognitive self-regulatory function were associated with higher total symptom levels. Cognitive and physiological regulation were moderators of the stress – depression symptom relation at baseline: (a) for youths with higher inhibition, greater economic resources buffered against higher levels of depression symptom; (b) resting-state physiological activity (EDA and RSA) moderated the association between exposure to threat and self-reported youth symptoms, with lower baseline activity (lower RSA and lower EDA) amplifying the association between greater exposure to threat-specific forms of adversity and higher symptoms. The findings contribute to the literature on stress and adversity, depression, and self-regulation by illustrating ways risk factors and regulatory processes may interact to contribute to the severity of depression symptoms. Improved understanding of associations between adversity and mechanisms of self-regulation, which are regularly targeted by evidence-based interventions, may inform ongoing efforts to identify target mechanisms in the treatment and prevention of youth depression.
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