Cognitive Styles in Preschool-Age Children: Associations with Depression Risk and Evidence of Stability

  • Katherine A. Leppert
  • Mary-Charlotte Wasserbach
  • Lea R. DoughertyEmail author


Evidence suggests cognitive styles are associated with depression; however, little research has examined cognitive styles in early childhood. Using developmentally appropriate, stress-inducing laboratory paradigms to assess young children’s cognitive vulnerability, the current study assessed negative and positive cognitive styles, their concurrent associations with well-established risk factors for depression in early childhood, and their stability from early to middle childhood. Participants included 173 preschool-aged children and their parents. Cognitive styles were assessed by coding children’s negative and positive self-referent and non-self-referent verbalizations and assistance-seeking verbalizations during stress-inducing laboratory tasks during early childhood (Wave 1; ages 3–5) and middle childhood (Wave 2; ages 6–10). Children’s Wave 1 verbalizations were concurrently associated with exposure to maternal depression, child negative and positive temperamental emotionality, and child externalizing psychopathology. Assistance-seeking verbalizations demonstrated homotypic continuity from Wave 1 to Wave 2, and both assistance-seeking verbalizations and negative non-self-referent verbalizations at Wave 1 predicted increases in negative self-referent verbalizations from Wave 1 to Wave 2. Findings suggest that cognitive styles can be observed in young children when using an ecologically valid assessment and are linked to risk factors for depression. Further research is warranted to elucidate the development of cognitive vulnerability in young children, which may inform prevention and early interventions targeting cognitive risk for depression.


Depression Cognitive style Stability Risk factors Preschool Child psychopathology 



This research was funded by the University of Maryland (UMD) College of Behavioral and Social Sciences Dean’s Research Initiative Award (LRD) and the UMD Research and Scholars Award (LRD).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Katherine A. Leppert, Mary-Charlotte Wasserbach and Lea R. Dougherty declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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