Dynamic associations between stressful life events and adolescent internalizing psychopathology in a multiwave longitudinal study

Jessica L. Jenness, Matthew Peverill, Kevin M. King, Benjamin L. Hankin, Katie A. McLaughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Associations between stressful life events (SLEs) and internalizing psychopathology are complex and bidirectional, involving interactions among stressors across development to predict psychopathology (i.e., stress sensitization) and psychopathology predicting greater exposure to SLEs (i.e., stress generation). Although stress sensitization and generation theoretical models inherently focus on within-person effects, most previous research has compared average levels of stress and psychopathology across individuals in a sample (i.e., between-person effects). The present study addressed this gap by investigating stress sensitization and stress generation effects in a multiwave, prospective study of SLEs and adolescent depression and anxiety symptoms. Depression, anxiety, and SLE exposure were assessed every 3 months for 2 years (8 waves of data) in a sample of adolescents (n = 382, aged 11 to 15 at baseline). Multilevel modeling revealed within-person stress sensitization effects such that the association between within-person increases in SLEs and depression, but not anxiety, symptoms were stronger among adolescents who experienced higher average levels of SLEs across 2 years. We also observed within-person stress generation effects, such that adolescents reported a greater number of dependentinterpersonal SLEs during time periods after experiencing higher levels of depression at the previous wave than was typical for them. Although no within-person stress generation effects emerged for anxiety, higher overall levels of anxiety predicted greater exposure to dependent-interpersonal SLEs. Our findings extend prior work by demonstrating stress sensitization in predicting depression following normative forms of SLEs and stress generation effects for both depression and anxiety using a multilevel modeling approach. Clinical implications include an individualized approach to interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)596-609
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Adolescents
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress generation
  • Stress sensitization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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