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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Sep;95(3):695-708. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.695.

Low self-esteem prospectively predicts depression in adolescence and young adulthood.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Low self-esteem and depression are strongly correlated in cross-sectional studies, yet little is known about their prospective effects on each other. The vulnerability model hypothesizes that low self-esteem serves as a risk factor for depression, whereas the scar model hypothesizes that low self-esteem is an outcome, not a cause, of depression. To test these models, the authors used 2 large longitudinal data sets, each with 4 repeated assessments between the ages of 15 and 21 years and 18 and 21 years, respectively. Cross-lagged regression analyses indicated that low self-esteem predicted subsequent levels of depression, but depression did not predict subsequent levels of self-esteem. These findings held for both men and women and after controlling for content overlap between the self-esteem and depression scales. Thus, the results supported the vulnerability model, but not the scar model, of self-esteem and depression.

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