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Role of depressive symptoms in early adolescents' online emotional responding to a peer evaluation challenge



Background: Problems regulating emotions effectively (emotion dysregulation) are implicated in many psychological problems. Depression in particular has been increasingly conceptualized as a disorder of emotion regulation. Methods: This study examines the linkage between children's depressive symptoms and the activation and regulation of positive and negative affect in response to an manipulated peer evaluation outcome. Participants (N=142) aged 10–13 played a computer contest (“Survivor”) and were randomized to either a negative (i.e., receiving the lowest “likeability” score from a group of peer judges), a positive (i.e., highest score), or a neutral peer evaluation outcome. Positive and negative affect were assessed at baseline, immediately post-feedback, and after a 5 min post-feedback waiting period. Results: No linkage was observed between depressive symptoms and emotional activation in response to either success or failure feedback. Consistent with expectations, we observed a negative linkage between depressive symptoms and children's up-regulation of positive affect subsequent to receiving negative peer feedback. No such linkage was observed for the maintenance of mood improvement over time. Conclusions: Results suggest that depressive symptoms in children are not linked with deficits or excesses in the overall magnitude of emotional reactivity. However, it appears that elevated depressive symptoms interfere with the ability to swiftly transition out of negative affective states. Depression and Anxiety, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.