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The development of depressogenic self-schemas: Associations with children's regional grey matter volume in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2021

Pan Liu*
Department of Psychology, Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, London, ON, Canada
Elizabeth P. Hayden
Department of Psychology, Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, London, ON, Canada
Lea R. Dougherty
Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
Hoi-Chung Leung
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA
Brandon Goldstein
Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT, USA
Daniel N. Klein
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA
Author for Correspondence: Pan Liu, Western Interdisciplinary Research Building, Room 2172, London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada; E-mail:


Cognitive theories of depression contend that biased cognitive information processing plays a causal role in the development of depression. Extensive research shows that deeper processing of negative and/or shallower processing of positive self-descriptors (i.e., negative and positive self-schemas) predicts current and future depression in adults and children. However, the neural correlates of the development of self-referent encoding are poorly understood. We examined children's self-referential processing using the self-referent encoding task (SRET) collected from 74 children at ages 6, 9, and 12; around age 10, these children also contributed structural magnetic resonance imaging data. From age 6 to age 12, both positive and negative self-referential processing showed mean-level growth, with positive self-schemas increasing relatively faster than negative ones. Further, voxel-based morphometry showed that slower growth in positive self-schemas was associated with lower regional gray matter volume (GMV) in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC). Our results suggest that smaller regional GMV within vlPFC, a critical region for regulatory control in affective processing and emotion development, may have implications for the development of depressogenic self-referential processing in mid-to-late childhood.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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