Self-processes in adolescent depression: The role of self-worth contingencies

Although biased self-evaluation is a component of several disorders, most measures focus on the content of self-concepts or level of self-worth rather than the process by which self-worth is maintained. This longitudinal study examines the distinctive role of self-worth contingencies—the extent to which adolescents link self-worth to external feedback and success in four domains (social, academic, activities, and appearance) in the development of depressive symptoms among a sample of 110 adolescents (age mean=13.62, SD=.52; 58.2% girls). Contingencies predicted change in depressive symptoms over time, but depressive symptoms did not predict change in contingencies over time. This pattern did not hold for the association between self-worth and depression. Findings provide support for contingencies as a predictor, rather than a symptom, of depressive symptoms among adolescents. Evaluation of contingencies as a diathesis revealed an interaction effect for the social, but not academic domain. The findings have implications self-worth contingencies as an important cognitive vulnerability to depressive symptoms during adolescence.