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J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2001 Feb;29(1):41-56.

Conceptions of relationships in children with depressive and aggressive symptoms: social-cognitive distortion or reality?

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 61820, USA.


This research tested skill-deficit and cognitive-distortion models of depression and aggression in 615 fifth- and sixth-grade children. Children completed a measure of their generalized conceptions of relationships in the peer domain and their level of depressive symptoms. Teachers completed measures of social competence, social status, and aggression. As anticipated, children with higher levels of depressive symptoms, either alone or in combination with aggression, demonstrated more negative conceptions of both self and peers than did nonsymptomatic children. Conceptions of relationships did not differentiate between aggressive and nonsymptomatic children. Children with depressive symptoms and children with aggressive symptoms displayed unique profiles of social competence deficits and problematic status in the peer group. Analysis of the accuracy of children's conceptions of relationships revealed support for both skill-deficit and cognitive-distortion models. Consistent with a skill-deficit model, children with depressive and depressive-aggressive symptoms were sensitive to actual differences in their social status. In contrast, aggressive children showed an insensitivity to social cues. Consistent with a cognitive-distortion model, children with depressive and depressive-aggressive symptoms had more negative conceptions than would be expected given their social status, whereas aggressive-unpopular children demonstrated a self-enhancement bias. These findings indicate the importance of integrated cognitive-interpersonal models of depression and aggression that incorporate multiple pathways among social-cognitive, interpersonal, and emotional functioning.

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