Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 8, pp 1315–1324 | Cite as

Executive Functioning in Adolescent Depressive Disorders

  • Karen Holler
  • Brian Kavanaugh
  • Nathan E. Cook
Original Paper


Previous research on executive functioning within adolescent depression has provided somewhat inconsistent results, although the majority of research has identified at least partial evidence of executive functioning deficits in adolescent depression. The present study attempted to explore adolescent depression, specifically depressive disorder diagnoses and self-reported depressive/anxious symptoms, as well as executive functioning through the retrospective chart review of an inpatient/outpatient adolescent sample. The total sample (N = 155) was divided into four groups. The psychiatric inpatient sample was subdivided into a Major Depression Group (n = 22), Minor Depression Group (n = 28), Inpatient Control Group (n = 73) based on the discharge diagnoses. The Outpatient Control Group (n = 33) consisted of a group of adolescents who received evaluations at a neuropsychological evaluation clinic. Analyses of variance between the four clinical groups and follow-up pairwise comparisons revealed lowered executive functioning performance in major and minor depression groups compared to the outpatient control. Lowered working memory/simple attention was identified in minor and major depression, while lowered cognitive flexibility/set shifting was only identified in major depression, suggesting a continuum of executive dysfunction and depression severity. More generally, the inpatient groups displayed lower executive functioning than the outpatient control, with no identified executive functioning differences between inpatient groups. Additionally, no negative correlations were observed between self-reported depressive/anxious symptoms and executive functioning. These results are consistent with the majority of related research, and highlight the importance of executive functions in adolescent depression, and more broadly in adolescent psychopathology.


Adolescents Depression Executive functioning Inpatient Psychopathology 



We would like to thank George Tremblay at Antioch University New England for his statistical guidance as well as the entire neuropsychology team at Butler Hospital. This project would not have been possible without their contributions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Holler
    • 1
  • Brian Kavanaugh
    • 2
  • Nathan E. Cook
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Human BehaviorAlpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler HospitalProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical PsychologyAntioch University New EnglandKeeneUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA

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