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Preschool psychiatric symptoms significantly increase the risk for long-term negative outcomes. Transdiagnostic hierarchical approaches that capture general (‘p’) and specific psychopathology dimensions are promising for understanding risk and predicting outcomes, but their predictive utility in young children is not well established. We delineated a hierarchical structure of preschool psychopathology dimensions and tested their ability to predict psychiatric disorders and functional impairment in preadolescence.
Data for 1253 preschool children (mean age = 4.17, s.d. = 0.81) were drawn from three longitudinal studies using a similar methodology (one community sample, two psychopathology-enriched samples) and followed up into preadolescence, yielding a large and diverse sample. Exploratory factor models derived a hierarchical structure of general and specific factors using symptoms from the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment interview. Longitudinal analyses examined the prospective associations of preschool p and specific factors with preadolescent psychiatric disorders and functional impairment.
A hierarchical dimensional structure with a p factor at the top and up to six specific factors (distress, fear, separation anxiety, social anxiety, inattention-hyperactivity, oppositionality) emerged at preschool age. The p factor predicted all preadolescent disorders (ΔR2 = 0.04–0.15) and functional impairment (ΔR2 = 0.01–0.07) to a significantly greater extent than preschool psychiatric diagnoses and functioning. Specific dimensions provided additional predictive power for the majority of preadolescent outcomes (disorders: ΔR2 = 0.06–0.15; functional impairment: ΔR2 = 0.05–0.12).
Both general and specific dimensions of preschool psychopathology are useful for predicting clinical and functional outcomes almost a decade later. These findings highlight the value of transdiagnostic dimensions for predicting prognosis and as potential targets for early intervention and prevention.
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.
In this article, we consider an often overlooked model that combines mediation and moderation to explain how a third variable can relate to a risk factor–psychopathology relationship. We refer to it as moderation and mediation in a three-variable system. We describe how this model is relevant to studying vulnerability factors and how it may advance developmental psychopathology research. To illustrate the value of this approach, we provide several examples where this model may be applicable, such as the relationships among parental externalizing pathology, harsh parenting, and offspring psychopathology as well as between neuroticism, stressful life events, and depression. We discuss possible reasons why this model has not gained traction and attempt to clarify and dispel those concerns. We provide guidance and recommendations for when to consider this model for a given data set and point toward existing resources for testing this model that have been developed by statisticians and other methodologists. Lastly, we describe important caveats, limitations, and considerations for making this approach most useful for developmental research. Overall, our goal in presenting this information to developmental psychopathology researchers is to encourage testing moderation and mediation in a three-variable system with the aim of advancing analytic strategies for studying vulnerability factors.
Social anhedonia is well established as a transdiagnostic factor, but little is known about its development. This study examined whether temperament and parenting in early childhood predict social anhedonia in early adolescence. We also explored whether the relationships between early predictors and social anhedonia are moderated by a child's sex. A community sample of children participated in laboratory observations of temperament and parenting practices at age 3 (n = 275). The participants returned at age 12 and completed the Anticipatory and Consummatory Interpersonal Pleasure Scale–Child Version (ACIPS-C). Our results indicated that, at age 3, lower observed sociability predicted higher levels of social anhedonia at age 12. These associations were moderated by child sex, such that males with diminished sociability reported greater social anhedonia. These findings indicate that predictors of early adolescent social anhedonia are evident as early as 3 years of age. However, these effects were evident only for males, suggesting that the pathways to social anhedonia in early adolescence differ as a function of sex.
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.
Psychological symptoms that arise in early childhood can follow a multitude of patterns into adolescence, including homotypic continuity (i.e., similar symptoms over time) and heterotypic continuity (i.e., a shift in symptoms over time). However, we know very little about the factors that distinguish homotypic vs. heterotypic continuity of early internalizing and externalizing symptoms over development. In a separate line of research, diurnal cortisol has been shown to predict later internalizing and externalizing problems. In the current study, we tested whether diurnal cortisol patterns moderated the course of internalizing and externalizing symptoms from preschool to early adolescence. 554 children (54% male) and parents participated in a longitudinal study. Parents reported on their children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms at ages 3 and 12, and children collected diurnal saliva samples at age 9. Results showed that a steeper cortisol decline at age 9 combined with high internalizing or externalizing problems at age 3 predicted higher internalizing problems at age 12. A more blunted cortisol decline combined with early internalizing or externalizing problems predicted higher externalizing problems in early adolescence. These results illustrate the moderating role of stress system functioning in homotypic and heterotypic patterns of psychopathology from preschool to early adolescence.
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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