Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 895–905 | Cite as

Interpersonal Stress Severity Longitudinally Predicts Adolescent Girls’ Depressive Symptoms: the Moderating Role of Subjective and HPA Axis Stress Responses

  • Sarah A. OwensEmail author
  • Sarah W. Helms
  • Karen D. Rudolph
  • Paul D. Hastings
  • Matthew K. Nock
  • Mitchell J. Prinstein


In recent decades, stress response models of adolescent depression have gained attention, but it remains unclear why only certain adolescents are vulnerable to the depressogenic effects of stress while others are not. Building on evidence that affective and physiological responses to stress moderate the impact of stress exposure on depression, the current study examined whether the interaction between severity of interpersonal stress, subjective affective reactivity, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to an acute, in-vivo psychosocial stressor prospectively predicted depressive symptoms nine months later. Hypotheses were examined with a clinically-oversampled group of 182 adolescent girls (aged 12–16) to ensure an examination of the widest possible range of risk. Self-report measures of affect and salivary cortisol samples were collected before and after an in-vivo stress task to assess affective reactivity and HPA axis reactivity, respectively. Severity of interpersonal stress between baseline and nine months was assessed using a semi-structured interview and was objectively coded for severity and content theme (i.e., interpersonal vs. non-interpersonal). Results indicate that experiences of severe interpersonally-themed stress predict elevated levels of depressive symptoms longitudinally only for adolescent girls with elevated affective reactivity to stress, and suggest that these deleterious effects of stress are most exacerbated for girls with elevated physiological responses to stress. Findings suggest that it may be critical to examine both affective and physiological stress responses when assessing risk for depression in adolescents.


Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis Adolescence Interpersonal stress Positive affect Depression 



Thanks to Michael Arthur, M.S. SLP, Daphne Cole, Kathryn Fox, Michael Giordano, Karen Guan, Shahar Gur, Brian Lattner, M.S., Alyssa Poblete, Leigh Spivey, and Julia ter Haar for help with data collection and to all of the adolescents who participated in this project. This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH085505) to Mitchell J. Prinstein and Matthew K. Nock.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah A. Owens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah W. Helms
    • 1
  • Karen D. Rudolph
    • 2
  • Paul D. Hastings
    • 3
  • Matthew K. Nock
    • 4
  • Mitchell J. Prinstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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