The role of learning about social approval and disapproval in adolescent depression.

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Division of Psychiatry


In adolescence there is a large increase in rates of depression, particularly in females. Around age 13, depressive symptoms start rising in females, and the gender difference between males and females emerges. We do not understand why this occurs. I believe it could be related to an increase in adolescents' sensitivity to social approval and disapproval. During adolescence, social relationships with peers become more important. Females in particular become more sensitive to their peers' opinions. Adults with depression are better at learning about social disapproval and worse at learning about social approval than healthy individuals. We do not know how such learning develops during adolescence. If adolescents became more sensitive to social approval and disapproval, this could explain why they are at increased risk of depression. If females become more sensitive than males, it might explain the gender difference. Previous research has used self-report methods, which may be susceptible to bias, so this must be tested using objective performance on tasks. I will test this with computerised tasks in 640 adolescents in schools in London. Adolescents aged 11 (early puberty) and 15 (late puberty) will complete a task involving learning about social approval and disapproval, as well as measures of depression and social experiences. These changes in sensitivity to social approval and disapproval may provide targets for interventions that could prevent the first episode of adolescent depression. Preventing the first episode of adolescent depression would be of great public health benefit.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000592/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1918828 Studentship ES/P000592/1 28/09/2017 30/09/2020 Jessica Bone