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Response styles and negative affect among adolescents

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This study examined several tenets of the response styles theory of depression (RST, Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991) and its generalizability to adolescent populations. Using a short-term longitudinal design, we evaluated whether response styles (i.e., ruminative and distractive responses to depressed mood) predict depression severity and whether they do so beyond the effects attributable to other cognitive variables. Anxiety was also assessed to investigate the specificity of RST to depression. Finally, we investigated gender differences in response style and whether these differences account for the gender difference in depression that emerges during adolescence. Self-reported affective symptoms and cognitive predictors (attributional style and private self-consciousness) were assessed in 397 adolescents. Results indicated that response style variables predicted concurrent and future (6-week followup) mood scores beyond effects accounted for by other cognitive variables. Rumination was less specific to the prediction of depression than was distraction, but only rumination predicted future depressed mood. Although girls reported more rumination, controlling for response style did not eliminate the gender difference in depression. Results are discussed with respect to the current status of RST, including construct measurement and its relevance to adolescent depression.

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Author information

Correspondence to Jennifer A. J. Schwartz or Linda J. Koenig.

Additional information

This research is based, in part, on a Master's Thesis submitted by the first author to the Emory University Department of Psychology under the direction of the second author. The authors wish to thank committee members Elaine Walker and Sherryl Goodman for their helpful comments, and Leanne Embry, Ann Issacs, Abby Mitorin, Julie Lerner, Marjorie Weinstock, Jennifer McWhorter, and Evie Schmidt for assistance with data collection and coding. We would also like to express our appreciation to Dr. David Harmon of the Cobb County School District, and Dr. Frank Croker, Jill Kalina, and the administrators, counselors, teachers, and students of South Cobb High School for their assistance and participation. Funding for this research was provided by a grant from Emory University to the second author. A portion of these data were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (August 1991) and the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence (March 1992).

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Schwartz, J.A.J., Koenig, L.J. Response styles and negative affect among adolescents. Cogn Ther Res 20, 13–36 (1996).

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Key words

  • depression
  • rumination
  • distraction
  • adolescence
  • gender