Assessing the diathesis-stress model in pre- and early adolescent girls and an examination of core beliefs as predictors of depression

by Valerie Faye Rosenberg

Institution: University of Texas – Austin
Department: Educational Psychology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: Depression; Adolescents; Negative life events; Negative core beliefs; Diathesis-stress model
Record ID: 2045224
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2152/24343


Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders and may be considered as one of the most prevalent forms of emotional/psychological illness among children. The prevalence of depressive disorders tends to rise dramatically during adolescence. Cognitive diathesis-stress models maintain that depression is produced through an interaction between cognitive vulnerability and negative life events. According to Beck, core beliefs are at the core of cognitive vulnerability. After the occurrence of a negative life event, the core belief is activated and influences how the individual interprets the negative life event. Beck maintains that three core beliefs are central to the development and maintenance of depressive disorders: the belief that one is helpless, unlovable, and/or worthless. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether a coding system for a storytelling task could reliably assess Beck’s core beliefs. In doing so, this study sought to build upon previous research on the relations between negative life events, core beliefs, and depressive symptomatology among pre- and early adolescent females. Participants were 130 girls ranging in age from 9 to 14. All girls completed a self-report measure of life events and a projective story-telling measure that was used to assess their core beliefs. Participants also completed a semi-structured diagnostic interview, which served as the primary measure of depressive symptom severity. In support of previous research, both negative life events and negative core beliefs uniquely predicted the severity of depressive symptoms. Consistent with Beck’s cognitive model, the helpless and unlovable core beliefs uniquely predicted severity of depressive symptoms, although the worthless core belief did not. Further examination indicated that the helpless core belief was a more powerful influence on depressive symptoms than were the unlovable and worthless core beliefs. Contrary to Beck’s diathesis-stress model, however, negative core beliefs did not moderate the effects of negative life events on depressive symptomatology. For girls aged 9-11, however, a helpless core belief moderated the effects of negative life events on depressive symptom severity. Implications of these results, limitations, and future directions for research are discussed.