Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) have repeatedly been associated with depression. The ability to differentiate emotional intensity is a protective factor for psychopathology and in the context of life stressors, poor negative emotion differentiation (ED) is associated with depressive symptoms. However, little is known about whether the ability to recognize negative emotional intensity, a theorized developmental prerequisite of ED, influences the relationship between ACES and depressive symptoms in early childhood. The current study examined the interactive effects of ACES, the ability to recognize emotional intensity and depressive symptoms in 249 preschoolers enriched for depression. Findings demonstrated that when experiencing ACES, sad (not happy) emotion recognition was associated with elevated depressive symptoms. Specifically, when facing multiple ACEs, preschoolers with poor and moderate ability to recognize sad emotional intensity exhibited elevated depressive symptoms. Findings demonstrate that when experiencing elevated ACES, sad emotion recognition may be a protective factor for depression in early childhood.
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We would like to thank Rebecca Tillman for help with data management and organization and the participants in the Preschool Depression Study (PDS).
This work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH090786 and K23MH115074).
Conflict of interest
JL and KG have received research grants from the National Institute of Health and KG has received research grants from Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals
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Sudit, E., Luby, J. & Gilbert, K. Sad, Sadder, Saddest: Recognition of Sad and Happy Emotional Intensity, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Depressive Symptoms in Preschoolers. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 53, 1221–1230 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-021-01203-9