DEPRESSION VULNERABILITY AND COGNITIVE VULNERABILITY
Beck (1967) defined cognitive vulnerability as the presence of maladaptive self-schemes reflecting helplessness and non-lovability, which become activated by negative life events or negative moods. In fact, stressful life experiences predict depression among children and adolescents (Grant et al., 2004). Apparently it is a bidirectional relationship, as depressive symptoms also predict increases in objectively assessed stressors among young people (Grant et al., 2004). In view of the fact that exposure to mild uncontrollable stress during
adolescence can impair cognitive functioning, it is crucial to assess stress in the study of cognitive vulnerability (Jacobs, Reinecke, Gollan, & Kane, 2008).
Negative self-perceptions regarding competence may serve as a cognitive vulnerability factor for depression (Cole, 1990). They are believed to result from negative competency evaluations by relevant others, such as parents and teachers. A child’s self-perception of competency may interact with others’ appraisals to influence depression.
Richaud (2006a) has found that in middle and late childhood, parent attachment is related to academic competence. The style of relationship with parents, on the other hand, accounts for social competence slightly more significantly than for academic competence. From the point of view of parental styles, acceptance and commitment by both parents, and especially the father, are very important for the child’s academic achievement. In both cases — attachment and style of relationship — children allot importance to their confidence in the
parent’s love and his/her concern for them.
As to perceived social acceptance (social self-competence), mother availability and acceptance constitute a solid basis from which the child can dare approach others, whereas pathological control by the father seems to inhibit the child’s perception of social acceptance, since threats of punishment and expressions of concern about the child’s inadequate performance make him/her feel rejected by others (Richaud, 2006a).
COPING AND STRESSORS
According to DesJardin (2003) children who are vulnerable to depression tend to make pessimistic remarks, have low self-esteem, and deploy poor coping strategies, such as grumbling about their problems without solving them, as well as rigid and extreme personality traits that include self-criticism and over-dependency on their parents.
A maladaptive coping style is a significant risk factor for psychological development in children and adolescents (Compas et al., 2001; Seiffge-Krenke, 1995; Wolchik & Sandler, 1997).
Previous studies in children and adolescents found that problem-focused and approach coping were negatively related to depression, whereas emotion-focused and avoidance coping were positively correlated (Compas et al., 1988; Causey & Dubow, 1992). Furthermore, it was noted that adolescent depression was predicted by low approach and high avoidance coping (Seiffge-Krenke & Klessinger, 2000; Seiffge-Krenke & Stemmler, 2002). Further research suggested that if stressors were perceived as controllable, the efficiency of coping strategies increased (Compas et al., 1988). In studies with children and adolescents, academic stressors were perceived to be more controllable that interpersonal stressors (Causey & Dubow, 1992; Compas et al., 1988). These findings support the hypothesis that the efficiency of coping is determined both by the coping strategies employed and the perceived controllability of stressors (Boekaerts & Roder, 1999; Causey & Dubow, 1992; Compas et al., 2001). Apparently children and adolescents employ more emotion-focused coping strategies with interpersonal stressors, and more problem-focused coping strategies with academic stressors (Hampel & Petermann, 2005).
Although clear gender differences in depression only appear after adolescence, developmental perspectives have placed its origins in childhood socialization. Relatively little is known, however, about continuities and discontinuities between childhood and adult behavior.
According to developmental psychology, there are learning principles of socialization that account for gender differences in vulnerability to depression. It posits that sexstereotypical socialization practices by caregivers lead to gender differences in depressive vulnerability. Ruble et al. (1993) hypothesize that parents’ expectations for girls and boys differ. Among other notions, girls are expected to be more nurturing and concerned with social evaluations of others, while boys are expected to be more autonomous. Consequently, they hold, stereotypical gender socialization leads to a lower sense of mastery and control and a higher concern for external evaluation in girls than in boys (Blehar & Oren, 1999).
Although developmental learning theories view socialization agents that predominantly influence child behavior and gender differences as the outcome of primarily unidirectional processes, other evidence witnesses the inheritance of stable temperamental traits that impact on caregiver/child interaction and prompt characteristic responses (Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1988).
According to Nolen-Hoeksema (1995) women’s increased vulnerability to depression is based on the identification of a self-focused coping style in response to a depressed mood.
Although she found relatively weak support for overall gender differences in personality characteristics of passivity and assertiveness, she did perceive differences in women’s response to depression: they face depression with negative emotions while men use distracting responses (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995). A woman’s typically longer and more severe depressive episodes are generally linked to “ruminative style” and higher rates of depression in adolescent girls are triggered by their greater exposure to concerns about personal appearance, safety, and self-worth. Other research indicates that women experience more life events than men (Kessler & McLeod, 1984). Karp and Frank (1995) report more life events 6 months before the onset of a depressive episode in women than in men in a treated group and suggest that women experience higher rates of reactive depression than men.
Richaud de Minzi (2006b) found that girls had made wider use of coping strategies such as self-blame, fatalism, instrumental support, emotional release and seeking emotional support than boys. The latter, on the other hand, were more prone to turn to evasion through physical activity when facing difficult situations. It is clear, then, that all the strategies chosen by females are emotional and basically depressive, since they take responsibility for failures, they have no expectations as to any contingency between what they do and what they achieve and they cannot control their emotions. These findings confirm Nolen-Hoeksema’s statement that girls focus on negative emotions while men use distracting responses to cope with stressors. Compas, Orosan and Grant (1993) posited that this is due to the fact that there are gender differences in emotion-focused coping that also come up in adolescence.
Two adaptive strategies such as Seeking for instrumental and emotional support, however, might point at a relative lessening of these girls’ depressive feelings. This would indicate that they do not feel socially isolated, which is one of the most risky strategies in adolescence (Richaud, 2006b).
Moreover, Ohannessian et al. (1999) have found that 11–12 year-old boys reported significantly higher levels of self-competence than did girls. In addition, boys were significantly less depressed and anxious than girls at 12, but not at 11. According to these authors, self-competence would be partially responsible for the emergence of gender differences in depression and anxiety during late childhood.
In order to contribute to clarify some of the results recorded above, the aim of this chapter is to study vulnerability to depression in normal boys and girls in middle and late childhood, and its relation with cognitive vulnerability, as expressed in children’s selfperception of academic and social competency, controllability of perceived stressors, and coping strategies.