Category: Child / Adolescent - Depression
Background: Negative romantic relationships have been found to predict depressive symptoms in adolescents. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying negative relationships. Due to the increasing impact of dating relationships in this developmental stage, it is important to better understand risk factors for trouble with romantic relationships in youth. Therefore, the primary aim of the present study was to assess whether decreased empathy and increased social dominance predicted adolescents’ negativity in romantic relationships, even after controlling for demographic characteristics and interactions with best friends. We also evaluated whether these traits interacted with gender in predicting negative interactions in romantic relationships.
Method: 535 adolescents (58% female, 51% in romantic relationship) recruited from three urban high schools in the Southeastern US completed the Network of Relationship Inventory–Revised for a best friend and romantic partner, the Social Dominance Scale, and the Empathy subscale of the Social Skills Rating System. Preliminary analyses (ANOVAs) were conducted to evaluate whether gender and romantic relationship status were related to social dominance and empathy. For the key study aim, hierarchical linear regressions were conducted to assess the main effects and interactions of social dominance, empathy, and gender on negative interactions within romantic relationships, while controlling for interactions with best friends.
Results: Preliminary analyses revealed main effects for gender (F = 38.84, p < .001) and relationship status (F = 4.76, p < .03) on empathy such that being female and in a dating relationship were positively associated with empathy. Also, main effects for gender (F = 20.71 p < .001) and relationship status (F = 13.78, p < .001) on social dominance revealed that being male and being in a dating relationship were associated with greater social dominance. Primary analyses revealed that, when controlling for gender, grade, and positive and negative best friend interactions, greater social dominance (β = .16, t = 2.60, p < .05) and less empathy (β = -.20, t = -3.03, p < .01) were associated with more negative interactions in romantic relationships. There were no interactions between gender and social dominance (β = -.01, t = -.14, p = .893) or between gender and empathy (β = .08, t = 1.34, p = .181).
Conclusions: Adolescents low in empathy and those who exert more social dominance may experience more romantic relationship problems than others. Further, this appears to be the case for both boys and girls. Future preventive interventions for depression in adolescents might consider efforts to enhance romantic relationship quality through teaching skills that can enhance empathy and modulate socially dominant behaviors.