Adolescents with no depressive symptoms demonstrate a bias toward those who feel positive emotions

Adolescents with no depressive symptoms demonstrate a bias toward those who feel positive emotions ...

Depressive symptoms are common at any age, but may differ between age groups. For example, changes in mood or emotional information may impact cognitive performance such as working memory. A recent study from BMC Psychology revealed that adolescents with depressive symptoms displayed a negative emotion. This effect was not observed in adults or adolescents with depressive symptoms.

Emotion appears to affect adults less so than adolescents differently, and working memory does not fully mature until around age 19. Because of this, researchers were interested in examining working memory in adolescents and adults both with and without depressive symptoms.

Depressed adults experience greater difficulty manipulating material in [working memory] than healthy comparisons, mainly when the material is negative, and we hypothesized that when exposed to anger, this effect might have an influence on [working memory] in those with depressive symptoms, according to the authors.

Because adolescents have a greater reactivity to emotional content, we hypothesized that affective materials would be beneficial to adolescents both mentally and emotionally.

A sample of 166 participants (74 adolescents) was recruited for this study. Participants completed a questionnaire to assess if they had depressive symptoms or not. People with a history of depressive symptoms were not included in this study.

Participants were presented with faces of varying emotional equities (neutral, happy, angry) and gender appearances (male, female) and were tasked with indicating whether the face matched a given gender (low cognitive load) or matched both a given gender and emotion (high cognitive load). Reaction times and exact match accuracy were recorded.

Overall, anxiety did not influence any of the actions, according to previous results for adults. Results indicate that reaction times were faster for angry and happy individuals under low cognitive load, whereas reaction time was no differences.

There were no differences in reaction times for adolescents with depressive symptoms. However, for adolescents without depressive symptoms, reaction times were overall faster for happy faces. No effect on accuracy were found for any of the relevant variables.

The most striking conclusion is that during a high [work memory] load, healthy adolescents showed a bias for positive feelings, improving (in valence condition) and deteriorating (in gender condition) performance, whereas this effect was not observed in young adults or adolescents with depressive symptoms.

Positive affective material in adolescents was absent in comparison to adolescents, which demonstrates recent research that found a positive bias in healthy adolescents, but not in healthy adults. Our findings may have been influenced by developmental differences in [working memory], and, specifically, by a greater sensitivity to positive affective material in adolescents, which might explain why the positivity bias was not present in young adults during high load.

The authors add that this study has a few limitations, including the relatively small sample size of adolescents with depressive symptoms and the inclusion of only three emotional expressions. Future experiments may include other emotional expressions and may participants in other age groups as well as pre-adolescent children.

Estibaliz RoyuelaColomer, Laura Wante, Izaskun Orue, Caroline Braet, and Sven C. Mueller, who studied emotional working memory in adolescents and young adults without depressive symptoms.

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