Early implicit–explicit discrepancies in self-esteem as correlates of childhood depressive symptoms


Cvencek, D., Greenwald, A. G., McLaughlin, K. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2020). Early implicit–explicit discrepancies in self-esteem as correlates of childhood depressive symptoms. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology , 200, 104962.


This longitudinal study examined early social–cognitive markers that might be associated with the emergence of childhood depression and anxiety. At 5 years of age, 137 children completed an implicit self-esteem measure. At 9 years of age, the same children completed measures of implicit self-esteem, explicit self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Two novel findings emerged. First, higher implicit self-esteem at age 5 than explicit self-esteem at age 9 (implicit \textgreater explicit discrepancy) was associated with depressive symptoms at age 9, but not with symptoms of anxiety. Second, this cross-age implicit \textgreater explicit discrepancy was associated with depressive symptoms more strongly than was the same implicit \textgreater explicit discrepancy measured concurrently at age 9. The overall pattern suggests that the appearance of depressive symptoms in children is associated with discrepancies between implicit and explicit self-esteem and not just lower levels of implicit self-esteem or lower levels of explicit self-esteem taken alone. It is the direction and discrepancy across time that is particularly informative, such that discrepancies between early implicit representations and later explicit reports of self-worth reflect a developmental pathway associated with elevated risk for depressive symptoms. Taken altogether, this study illustrates the benefits of combining work in developmental, child-clinical, and social psychology to provide a more complete view of the developing child. We believe that combining implicit and explicit measures of self-esteem across developmental time points can be used to examine early markers of depression in children at younger ages than typically possible with explicit measures alone.