The ability to identify and label one’s emotions is associated with effective emotion regulation, rendering emotional awareness important for mental health. We evaluated how emotional awareness was related to psychopathology and whether low emotional awareness was a transdiagnostic mechanism explaining the increase in psychopathology during the transition to adolescence and as a function of childhood trauma—specifically, violence exposure. In Study 1, children and adolescents (N = 120, age range = 7–19 years) reported on emotional awareness and psychopathology. Emotional awareness was negatively associated with psychopathology (p-factor) and worsened across age in females but not males. In Study 2 (N = 262, age range = 8–16 years), we replicated these findings and demonstrated longitudinally that low emotional awareness mediated increases in p-factor as a function of age in females and violence exposure. These findings indicate that low emotional awareness may be a transdiagnostic mechanism linking adolescent development, sex, and trauma with the emergence of psychopathology.
Spanking remains common around the world, despite evidence linking corporal punishment to detrimental child outcomes. This study tested whether children (Mage = 11.60) who were spanked (N = 40) exhibited altered neural function in response to stimuli that suggest the presence of an environmental threat compared to children who were not spanked (N = 107). Children who were spanked exhibited greater activation in multiple regions of the medial and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), including dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, dorsomedial PFC, bilateral frontal pole, and left middle frontal gyrus in response to fearful relative to neutral faces compared to children who were not spanked. These findings suggest that spanking may alter neural responses to environmental threats in a manner similar to more severe forms of maltreatment.
The association between low socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood and increased risk for psychopathology is well established, but the mechanisms explaining this relationship are poorly understood. Here, we investigate the potential role of difficulties in executive functioning (EF) as a mechanism linking childhood and adolescent SES with externalizing and internalizing psychopathology.
We examined whether difficulties with EF mediated the association between SES and externalizing and internalizing psychopathology in two cross-sectional samples of children and adolescents (Study 1: N = 94, ages 6–18, 51.1% male; Study 2: N = 259, ages 8–16, 54.1% male) from diverse SES backgrounds in the United States. EF was measured through behavioral tasks and parent-reported behavioral regulation (BR).
In both samples, children and adolescents from lower SES families were more likely to experience both externalizing and internalizing psychopathology than youth from more advantaged backgrounds and exhibited greater EF difficulties – they had lower performance on a task measuring inhibitory control and lower parent-rated BR. Reduced inhibitory control and BR, in turn, were associated with higher externalizing and internalizing psychopathology. In Study 1, difficulties with BR mediated the association of low-SES with both externalizing and internalizing psychopathology. In Study 2, low inhibitory control mediated the association between low-SES and externalizing psychopathology. These findings largely persisted after adjusting for exposure to violence, a form of adversity that is common in children from low-SES backgrounds.
These findings suggest that reduced EF may be an underlying mechanism through which low-SES confers risk for psychopathology in children and adolescents.
Exposure to childhood adversity is a powerful risk factor for psychopathology. Despite extensive efforts, we have not yet identified effective or scalable interventions that prevent the emergence of mental health problems in children who have experienced adversity. In this modified Delphi study, we identified intervention strategies for effectively targeting both the neurodevelopmental mechanisms linking childhood adversity and psychopathology – including heightened emotional reactivity, difficulties with emotion regulation, blunted reward processing, and social information processing biases, as well as a range of psychopathology symptoms. We iteratively synthesized information from experts in the field and relevant meta-analyses through three surveys, first with experts in intervention development, prevention, and childhood adversity (n = 32), and then within our study team (n = 8). The results produced increasing stability and good consensus on intervention strategy recommendations for specific neurodevelopmental mechanisms and symptom presentations and on strength of evidence ratings of intervention strategies targeting youth and parents. More broadly, our findings highlight how intervention decision making can be informed by meta-analyses, enhanced by aggregate group feedback, saturated before consensus, and persistently subjective or even contradictory. Ultimately, the results converged on several promising intervention strategies for prevention programming with adversity-exposed youth, which will be tested in an upcoming clinical trial.
Exposure to stressful life events is strongly associated with internalizing psychopathology, and identifying factors that reduce vulnerability to stress-related internalizing problems is critical for development of early interventions. Drawing on research from affective science, we tested whether high emotion differentiation—the ability to specifically identify one’s feelings—buffers adolescents from developing internalizing symptoms when exposed to stress. Thirty adolescents completed a laboratory measure of emotion differentiation before an intensive yearlong longitudinal study in which exposure to stress and internalizing problems were assessed at both the moment level (n = 4,921 experience-sampling assessments) and month level (n = 355 monthly assessments). High negative and positive emotion differentiation attenuated moment-level coupling between perceived stress and feelings of depression, and high negative emotion differentiation eliminated month-level associations between stressful life events and anxiety symptoms. These results suggest that high emotion differentiation buffers adolescents against anxiety and depression in the face of stress, perhaps by facilitating adaptive emotion regulation.
Attention biases to emotion are associated with symptoms of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology in children and adolescents. It is unknown whether attention biases to emotion and their associations with different symptoms of psychopathology vary across development from early childhood through young adulthood. We examine this age-related variation in the current study. Participants (N = 190; ages: 4–25) completed survey-based psychopathology symptom measures and a dot-probe task to assess attention bias to happy, sad, and angry relative to neutral faces. We tested whether linear or non-linear (e.g., spline-based models) associations best characterized age-related variation in attention to emotion. We additionally examined whether attention biases were associated with depression, anxiety, and externalizing symptoms and whether these associations varied by age. No age-related differences in attention biases were found for any of the emotional faces. Attention biases were associated with psychopathology symptoms, but only when examining moderation by age. Biased attention to angry faces was associated with greater symptoms of anxiety and depression in adolescents and young adults, but not children. Similarly, biased attention to happy faces was associated with externalizing symptoms in adolescents and young adults, but not in children. In contrast, biased attention to happy faces was associated with greater anxiety symptoms in children, but not in adolescents or young adults. Biased attention toward social threat and reward becomes more strongly coupled with internalizing and externalizing symptoms, respectively, during the transition to adolescence. These findings could inform when interventions such as attention bias modification training may be most effective.
Although increasing numbers of children have socially transitioned to live in line with their gender identities, little is known about factors associated with their wellbeing. This study examines the associations between parent-reported family, peer, and school support for a youth’s gender identity, as well as an objective measure of state-level support, with parent-reported internalizing symptoms in 265 transgender youth (67.2% transgender girls, 32.8% transgender boys), ages 3–15 years (M = 9.41, SD = 2.62). Parents who reported higher levels of family, peer, and school support for their child’s gender identity also reported fewer internalizing symptoms; the objective measure of state-level support was not related to internalizing symptoms. Additionally, peer and school support buffered against the association between gender-related victimization and internalizing symptoms, as reported by parents. This work demonstrates that even among transgender youth with families who supported their transitions, parents see better well-being in their children when they also see more support for the child’s gender identity from family, peers, and schools.
Children raised in families with low socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to exhibit symptoms of psychopathology. However, the strength of this association, the specific indices of SES most strongly associated with childhood psychopathology, and factors moderating the association are strikingly inconsistent across studies. We conducted a meta-analysis of 120 estimates of the association between family SES and child psychopathology in 13 population-representative cohorts of children studied in the US since 1980. Among 26,715 participants aged 3–19 years, we observed small to moderate associations of low family income (g = 0.19), low Hollingshead index (g = 0.21), low subjective SES (g = 0.24), low parental education (g = 0.25), poverty status (g = 0.25), and receipt of public assistance (g = 0.32) with higher levels of childhood psychopathology. Moderator testing revealed that receipt of public assistance showed an especially strong association with psychopathology and that SES was more strongly related to externalizing than internalizing psychopathology. Dispersion in our final, random effects, model suggested that the relation between SES and child psychopathology is likely to vary in different populations of children and in different communities. These findings highlight the need for additional research on the mechanisms of SES-related psychopathology risk in children in order to identify targets for potential intervention.
Background Early adversity consistently predicts youth psychopathology. However, the pathways linking unique dimensions of early adversity, such as deprivation, to psychopathology are understudied. Here, we evaluate a theoretical model linking early deprivation exposure with psychopathology prospectively through language ability. Methods Participants included 2,301 youth (47.5% female) enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. We include data from assessment points at ages 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15. Latent factors for deprivation and threat were modeled from multiple indicators at ages 1 and 3. Youth language ability was assessed at Age 5. Indicators of psychopathology were assessed at ages 5, 9, and 15. A structural equation model tested longitudinal paths to internalizing and externalizing psychopathology from experiences of deprivation and threat. Results Deprivation from birth to Age 3 was associated with an indirect effect on internalizing and externalizing symptoms in early childhood (Age 5), later childhood (Age 9), and adolescence (Age 15) via language ability in early childhood (Age 5). Early threat exposure was associated with increased internalizing and externalizing psychopathology across all ages. There was no significant indirect effect from threat to psychopathology via language ability. Conclusions The effects of deprivation on psychopathology during early childhood, late childhood, and adolescence are explained, in part, through early childhood language ability. Results provide insight into language ability as a possible opportunity for intervention.