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Early irritability predicts a broad spectrum of psychopathology spanning both internalizing and externalizing disorders, rather than any particular disorder or group of disorders (i.e. multifinality). Very few studies, however, have examined the developmental mechanisms by which it leads to such phenotypically diverse outcomes. We examined whether variation in the diurnal pattern of cortisol moderates developmental pathways between preschool irritability and the subsequent emergence of internalizing and externalizing symptoms 9 years later.
When children were 3 years old, mothers were interviewed about children's irritability and completed questionnaires about their children's psychopathology. Six years later, children collected saliva samples at wake-up and bedtime on three consecutive days. Diurnal cortisol patterns were modeled as latent difference scores between evening and morning samples. When children were approximately 12 years old, mothers again completed questionnaires about their children's psychopathology.
Among children with higher levels of irritability at age 3, a steeper diurnal cortisol slope at age 9 predicted greater internalizing symptoms and irritability at age 12, whereas a blunted slope at age 9 predicted greater externalizing symptoms at age 12, adjusting for baseline and concurrent symptoms.
Our results suggest that variation in stress system functioning can predict and differentiate developmental trajectories of early irritability that are relatively more internalizing v. those in which externalizing symptoms dominate in pre-adolescence.
Classic conceptual frameworks explaining the relationship of personality traits to depression include the precursor and predisposition models. The former hypothesizes that depression is predicted by traits alone whereas the latter hypothesizes that stress, together with personality, predicts depression. Dynamic vulnerability models (DVM) expand on these perspectives by incorporating fluctuations in personality over time. The stress generation model provides an alternative view, positing that depression generates stress, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. However, these conceptual models are rarely directly compared.
We tested these models, focusing on neuroticism and stressful life events that the participant may have contributed to, using path analysis in a sample of 550 never-depressed, adolescent females assessed five times over 3 years.
A dynamic precursor model with stress generation was best supported. For the precursor component, neuroticism predicted subsequent depression across four assessment intervals. For the dynamic trait component, stressful life events predicted subsequent neuroticism at three of four intervals. Finally, in line with stress generation, depression consistently predicted subsequent stressful life events, and life events then predicted depression.
Finding support for the DVM is noteworthy, as this is the first comprehensive test of this model. Moreover, results supported integrating stress generation with trait vulnerability. Continued use of integrated approaches and refining the statistical implementation of these theories is necessary to advance understanding of the development of depression.
Reward processing deficits have been implicated in the etiology of depression. A blunted reward positivity (RewP), an event-related potential elicited by feedback to monetary gain relative to loss, predicts new onsets and increases in depression symptoms. Etiological models of depression also highlight stressful life events. However, no studies have examined whether stressful life events moderate the effect of the RewP on subsequent depression symptoms. We examined this question during the key developmental transition from childhood to adolescence.
A community sample of 369 children (mean age of 9) completed a self-report measure of depression symptoms. The RewP to winning v. losing was elicited using a monetary reward task. Three years later, we assessed stressful life events occurring in the year prior to the follow-up. Youth depressive symptoms were rated by the children and their parents at baseline and follow-up.
Stressful life events moderated the effect of the RewP on depression symptoms at follow-up such that a blunted RewP predicted higher depression symptoms in individuals with higher levels of stressful life events. This effect was also evident when events that were independent of the youth's behavior were examined separately.
These results suggest that the RewP reflects a vulnerability for depression that is activated by stress.
Individual differences in neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness are associated with, and may predict onset of, internalizing disorders. These general traits can be parsed into facets, but there is a surprising paucity of research on facet risk for internalizing disorders. We examined general traits and facets of neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness in predicting first onsets of depressive and anxiety disorders.
A community sample of 550 adolescent females completed general and facet-level personality measures and diagnostic interviews. Interviews were re-administered 18 months later.
First onsets of depressive disorders were predicted by neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Facets predicting first onset of depression included depressivity (neuroticism facet) and lower positive emotionality and sociability (extraversion facets). First onsets of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were predicted by neuroticism, and particularly the facet of anxiousness. First onsets of social phobia were predicted at the facet level by anxiousness. First onsets of specific phobia were predicted by neuroticism, low conscientiousness, and all neuroticism facets. In multivariate analyses, first onsets of depression were uniquely predicted by depressivity, and onsets of GAD and social phobia were uniquely predicted by anxiousness over and above the general trait of neuroticism.
General traits predict first onsets of depressive and anxiety disorders. In addition, more specific associations are evident at the facet level. Facets can refine our understanding of the links between personality and psychopathology risk, and provide finer-grained targets for personality-informed interventions.
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