The goal of this research was to expand theoretical models of adolescent depression to determine whether individual differences in cognitive processing—specifically attentional control deficits—help to explain increased risk for depression during adolescence. We also examined whether this pathway was stronger in girls than in boys. A longitudinal design was used to examine whether poor attentional control in everyday life (i.e., difficulties shifting between ideas, tasks, and activities) contributes to depression over time by fostering higher levels of stress reactivity. Youth (298 boys, 338 girls) completed questionnaires assessing stress reactivity (6th and 7th grades) and depressive symptoms (6th, 7th and, 8th grades); teachers completed the shifting subscale of the Behavior Rating Scale of Executive Function (Gioia et al. 2000a) to assess attentional control (6th and 7th grades). Structural equation modeling analyses provided support for the predicted pathway in girls but not boys, yielding a significant indirect effect from 6th grade shifting deficits to 8th grade depressive symptoms via 7th grade stress reactivity. These results suggest that attentional control deficits in early adolescence heighten girls’ sensitivity to stress and consequent depressive symptoms, providing a critical direction for efforts to decrease adolescent girls’ risk for depression.
- Attentional control
- Stress reactivity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health