Category: Child / Adolescent - Depression
Cognitive theory is a prominent framework for conceptualizing etiological features of psychopathology. Most cognitive models consider cognitive structures, or schemas, to be a driving factor for the development and maintenance of psychopathology (Beck, 1976). A schema is defined as a mental framework that is used to interpret, categorize, and evaluate one’s experiences (Beck 1976). Thus, schemas play an important role in developmental psychopathology because they influence what we attend to, as well as what we encode and recall of our everyday life experiences. Most schema research has focused on negative self-schemas when predicting psychopathology, yet there is a growing body of research highlighting the importance of positive self-schemas in predicting psychopathology (Lumley & McArthur, 2016).
Theory suggests that schemas develop throughout childhood, and thus, may become stable and trait-like by adolescence (Beck, 1967). However, little research has examined the long-term stability of self-schemas during adolescence. Importantly, the only two studies examining the long-term stability of negative and positive self-schemas utilizing laboratory paradigms (which arguably best measure the latent structure of self-schemas) have focused on early-middle childhood (Hayden et al., 2014; Goldstein et al., 2014). Thus, there is a lack of research on the long-term stability of self-schemas during adolescence. Additionally, no research to our knowledge has examined the influence of sex on the stability of self-schemas. This is surprising given ample literature suggesting that females experience a surge in vulnerability to psychopathology, particularly depression, during the adolescent years, as well as a heightened experience of cognitive vulnerabilities to depression as compared to boys (Hankin & Abramson, 2002).
The current study aimed to extend our understanding of the stability of self-schemas by examining both positive and negative self-schemas using a laboratory paradigm, over eight waves of data collection - from ages 13 to 20.
Participants were 623 adolescents (M = 13.04 years, 51.3% female, 52% Caucasian, 43% African American, 5% Biracial) who completed the Self-Referent Encoding Task (SRET), a computerized task that gives a measure of positive and negative self-schemas (Derry & Kuiper, 1981; Hammen & Zupan, 1984), at baseline and seven yearly follow-ups.
To examine the trajectory of self-schemas nested within individuals over the course of adolescence, we employed multilevel growth curve modeling using Mplus. The results indicate that negative and positive self-schemas follow different trajectories during adolescence. Both males and females exhibited quadratic slopes for negative self-schemas, whereas males and females had very different profiles for positive self-schemas.
These results highlight the unique pattern of both positive and negative self-schemas during adolescence and suggest that males and females have different trajectories. Examining the stability of cognitive self-schemas may help inform the optimal time for intervention when using cognitive behavioral techniques designed to target self-schemas.
Brae Anne McArthur– Postdoctoral Fellow, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Taylor Burke– Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology, Temple University
Samantha Connolly– Graduate Student, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Margaret Lumley– University of Guelph
Lyn Abramson– University of Wisconsin - Madison
Lauren Alloy– Joseph Wolpe Distinguished Faculty in Psychology, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania