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Cognitive biases predict symptoms of depression, anxiety and wellbeing above and beyond neuroticism in adolescence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Eilidh M Smith
  • Shirley Reynolds
  • Faith Orchard
  • Heather C Whalley
  • Stella Wy Chan

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-453
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Early online date15 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Aug 2018


BACKGROUND: Adolescence represents a period of vulnerability to affective disorders. Neuroticism is considered a heritable risk factor for depression, but is not directly amenable to intervention. Therefore, it is important to identify the contributions of modifiable risk factors. Negative cognitive biases are implicated in the onset and maintenance of affective disorders in adults, and may represent modifiable risk factors in adolescence.

AIM(S): This study sought to assess to what extent cognitive biases are able to predict depression, anxiety and wellbeing beyond that of neuroticism in adolescents.

METHODS: Adolescents (N = 99), recruited from Scottish secondary schools (54.5% female; mean age = 14.7), ensured a sample representing the breadth of the mental health spectrum. In line with prevalence estimates, 18% of this sample demonstrated clinical levels of depression symptoms. Cognitive biases of autobiographical memory, self-referential memory, ambiguous scenarios interpretation, facial expression recognition, rumination and dysfunctional attitudes were assessed. Depression, anxiety, and wellbeing were indexed using the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, Spence Children's Anxiety Scale and the BBC Subjective Wellbeing Scale.

RESULTS: Regression analyses demonstrated neuroticism to significantly predict depression, anxiety and wellbeing. The addition of cognitive biases resulted in a significant increase of explained variance with final models explaining just over 50% of variances of depression, anxiety and wellbeing.

CONCLUSION: These findings demonstrate that cognitive biases explain mental health symptoms over and above that of neuroticism. Depressive symptomology was particularly related to self-referential memory bias, while anxiety was predicted by interpretive bias. The key clinical implication is that targeting specific biases based on diagnostic features may be of particular benefit in alleviating distress and promoting wellbeing.

    Research areas

  • adolescence, cognition, anxiety, depression, wellbeing, neuroticism

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