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Adolescents with Depression More Sensitive to Parental Criticism

Depressed Child, Depression, Parental Criticism, Healthy Adolescents

A recent study published in Psychological Medicine found that adolescents with depression are more sensitive to parental criticism and less sensitive to parental praise than healthy adolescents without depression. This was evident in the adolescents’ brain activity and self-reported ratings of mood.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that can affect adolescents’ self-esteem and sense of worth. Negative interactions between parents and adolescents have been linked to the development of depression. However, little is known about how adolescents with depression specifically respond to parental feedback.

Heightened Sensitivity to Parental Feedback

To investigate this, researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied the emotional and brain responses of adolescents with depression to feedback from their parents. They found that adolescents with depression had heightened brain activity in areas associated with emotion regulation and self-processing when they received criticism from their parents. They also reported feeling more negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, in response to criticism.

In contrast, adolescents with depression had lower brain activity in areas associated with emotion regulation and self-processing when they received praise from their parents. They also reported feeling less positive emotions, such as happiness and joy, in response to praise.

These findings suggest that adolescents with depression are more sensitive to negative feedback from their parents and less responsive to positive feedback. This may be because they have a negative self-image and are more likely to interpret criticism as confirmation of their negative beliefs about themselves.

The study findings

The researchers recruited 20 Dutch adolescents who were aged 13.5 to 18 diagnosed with either dysthymia (a mild, chronic form of depression) or major depressive disorder (a severe, acute form of depression). 59 healthy adolescents aged 12 to 18 without depression were also recruited. For both groups, the adolescents’ parents were also invited to join the study.

Both adolescents and their parents were initially presented with ‘feedback’ words which were one-word descriptions of personality characteristics. They were tasked with rating these words as either negative (e.g. ‘untrustworthy’), neutral (e.g. ‘chaotic’) or positive (e.g. ‘kind’), in addition to rating how applicable these words were to the adolescents.

The researchers found that adolescents with depression were more likely to rate negative feedback words as applicable to themselves, and less likely to rate positive feedback words as applicable to themselves. They were also more likely to interpret neutral feedback words as negative.

In contrast, parents of adolescents with depression were more likely to rate positive feedback words as applicable to their children, and less likely to rate negative feedback words as applicable to their children. They were also more likely to interpret neutral feedback words as positive.

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