Depressive states in adolescence : a cognitive approach

A considerable debate exists with relation to the existence and/ or manifestation of depressive states in adolescents. Kovacs and Beck (1975) identified behavioral symptoms in individuals up to age sixteen which are similar to those evidenced in depressed adults. Accordingly, it was suggested that the utilization of existing theories of the psychopathology of adult depression may prove beneficial for the study of depressive states in adolescence. Beck (1970) proposed that the depressive syndrome is a result of disturbance in an individual’s thought processes and content. Along those lines, it has been suggested that in a population of adults, the level of emotional disturbance i.e., degree of depression, is related to cognitive ability. In the present study, the relationship between degree of depression and cognitive ability i.e., abstract and concrete thinking, was examined within a sample of non-clinical adolescents. This relationship was analyzed after the influences of variables ‘known’ to be associated with cognition were accounted for i.e., age, sex, intelligence and anxiety level. Of those, intelligence and anxiety were significantly related to abstracting ability, while degree of depression was not. The equation for concrete thinking ability was not significant. The results of this investigation are discussed in relation to the inconsistency of these findings with those of Braff & Beck (1974). In addition, the anxiety-abstracting ability relationship is examined in accordance with the current research on the anxiety cognitive performance relationship. Finally, the nature of the relationship between affective states and cognitive abilities in adolescence is discussed within a cognitive developmental framework and implications for future research are suggested.