Research Explores Factors That Impact Adolescent Mental Health

Research indicates that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, well before adulthood. Three new studies investigate the cognitive, genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to mental health disorders in adolescence. The studies are published in Psychological Science and Clinical Psychological Science, journals of the Association for Psychological Science.

Social-Information-Processing Patterns Mediate the Impact of Preventive Intervention on Adolescent Antisocial Behavior

Kenneth A. Dodge, Jennifer Godwin, and The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group

Fast Track is a preventive intervention designed to help children who show aggression at an early age. The intervention addresses kids’ social-cognitive processes in several ways, including social-skill training groups, parent groups, and classroom curricula. In this study, the researchers investigated the processes underlying this intervention’s success. A total of 891 kindergarteners who were at high risk for adolescent antisocial behavior were randomly assigned to receive either the Fast Track intervention or a control program. The data revealed that children in the intervention showed decreased levels of antisocial behavior at the end of 9th grade, which was driven, in part, by improvement on three specific social-cognitive processes. These results suggest that social-cognitive processes may play an important role in the development of antisocial behavior in youth.

Published online February 13, 2013 in Psychological Science

A Comparison of Two Models of Urgency: Urgency Predicts Both Rash Action and Depression in Youth

Gregory T. Smith, Leila Guller, and Tamika C.B. Zapolski

Smith and colleagues test two competing theories concerning the trait of urgency. One theory posits that urgency reflects the people’s tendency to act rashly or impulsively when they’re emotional. Another theory suggests that urgency reflects a general responsiveness to emotions that can lead to rash action (such as heavy drinking or binge eating) or ill-advised inaction (which is associated with symptoms of depression). In previous research, Smith and colleagues found that urgency levels in 5th grade predicted addictive behaviors (including alcohol consumption, binge eating, and smoking) in 6th grade, which is consistent with both theories. In this study, the researchers found that level of urgency in 5th grade also predicted higher levels of depression at the end of 6th grade. These results support the view that urgency can lead either to rash action or ill-advised inaction. The researchers conclude that urgency may be an important trait in various diagnoses, across both internalizing and externalizing disorders.

Published online February 15, 2013 in Clinical Psychological Science

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Rumination, Distraction, and Depressed Mood in Adolescence

Mollie N. Moore, Rachel H. Salk, Carol A. Van Hulle, Lyn Y. Abramson,  Janet S. Hyde, Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant, and H. Hill Goldsmith

About one in 10 adolescents will experience major depression or dysthymia by age 18. Rumination, the process of dwelling on one’s feelings and problems, is an established cognitive risk factor for depression. In this study, Moore and colleagues investigated whether response styles associated with rumination might account for some of the genetic vulnerability associated with depression. A total of 756 adolescent twins ages 12 to 14 completed the Response Styles Questionnaire and several measures of depressive symptoms. Brooding was positively correlated with depressive symptoms, while distraction was negatively correlated with the symptoms. About 54% of the variation in depression symptoms could be attributed to genetic variation, while 37% of the variation in reflection and 30% of the variation in distraction were accounted for by genetic variation. Further analyses showed that individual differences in distraction share both genetic and environmental sources of variation with depression. Together, these results suggest that the same genetic factors that contribute to distraction may protect against depression.

Published online February 20, 2013 in Clinical Psychological Science

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