, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 165-177

Altered Emotional Processing in Pediatric Anxiety, Depression, and Comorbid Anxiety-Depression

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Abstract

The goal of this study was to examine some of the mechanisms underlying emotion regulation in childhood affective disorders by examining the impact of distracting emotional information during performance on a working memory task (“Emotional n-back” or E-n-back). The sample included 75 children (38 girls and 37 boys) between 8 and 16 years of age meeting criteria for: Anxiety disorder (ANX, n = 17), Major depressive disorder (MDD, n = 16), Comorbid anxiety and depression (CAD, n = 24), or Low-risk normal control (LRNC, n = 18). Results showed that the MDD and CAD groups had significantly longer reaction times on negative emotional backgrounds compared to neutral backgrounds, whereas the LRNC group had significantly longer reaction times on positive backgrounds. These results suggest altered processing of emotional information particularly associated with depression. Because the E-n-back task engages higher-order cognitive processes, these results suggest that these alterations in processing emotional information also interfere with the cognitive processes that govern how attentional resources are allocated. Further, research is needed to replicate this study and delineate underlying neural mechanisms.