Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 8, pp 1279–1288 | Cite as

A Direct Method of Assessing Underlying Cognitive Risk for Adolescent Depression



An enduring tendency towards negative thinking is thought to increase vulnerability for future depression. However, it has not been possible to assess this tendency in non-depressed mood states. We examined if response latency to endorse dysfunctional attitudes is associated with depressive outcomes in a longitudinal study. A sample of young people at familial risk of depression (N = 252, aged 10–19, 56.3 % female) completed a computer-administered dysfunctional attitude scale. The main outcome measure was the difference in reaction time to agree versus disagree with dysfunctional attitudes. Cross-sectional differences between current and previous depression and no psychiatric disorder groups as well as longitudinal associations with depressive symptoms were examined. Young people with current and previous depression were quicker to agree with dysfunctional attitudes than those without disorder. In young people free from depressive disorder, faster agreements with dysfunctional attitudes were specifically associated with increased depressive symptoms over time. Self-reported dysfunctional attitudes did not differentiate the formerly depressed and no disorder groups and showed a longitudinal association with depressive symptoms for older adolescents only. Reaction time to endorse dysfunctional attitudes may indicate changes in affective processing that represent an early risk for future depression that is not indexed by self-report measures of negative thought.


Depression Risk Adolescence Prevention Measurement Cognition Affective processing 



The authors wish to thank the contributions of Nicholas Craddock, Gordon Harold, Michael Owen, Robert Potter, Daniel Smith and Ajay Thapar. A thank-you is also due to the field team: Becky Mars, Claire Delduca, Lynne Barry, Jennifer Hilgart, Eleni Kopsida, Olga Eyre, Ruth Sellers, Sophie Thomas, Sophie Canton, Gemma Hammerton, Sophie Keates, Garret Coy, Rebecca Davis, Katie Lewis, Lucy Kift and Valerie Russell.

Funding acknowledgment

This research was supported by the Medical Research Council (G0802200), the British Academy (SG-50591) and the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust. SC is funded by the Waterloo Foundation.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical, Educational and Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Section, Institute of Psychological Medicine and Clinical NeurosciencesCardiff University School of Medicine and MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsCardiffUK

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