Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Social Work

Document Type



Most depression interventions targeted to youth are adapted from adult curricula without enough consideration given to the developmental level and capacity of the intended audience (Kovacs & Lopez-Duran, 2012). Although depression in youth has received recognition and treatment, there remains a gap between the theoretical knowledge base of youth cognitive development and the application of this knowledge to the innovation of developmentally appropriate depression interventions suited for youth of varying levels of cognitive maturity. The current study investigated the influence of cognitive development over the moderation of negative attributions on the relationship between exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and symptoms of depression. With a sample of elementary, middle, and high school students ranging in age from 8 to 18, cognitive maturity was measured via the Peabody Causal Reasoning Test (Weitlauf & Cole, 2012) which estimated students’ cognitive capacity to engage in causal reasoning about abstract concepts that are fundamentally related to the thoughts required to make the sort of negative attributions hypothesized by cognitive theories of depression. As hypothesized, in less cognitively mature students, the relationship between exposure to ACEs and symptoms of depression was not moderated by negative attributions. For students who had reached more mature levels of cognition, however, helpless attributions behaved as predicted by diathesis-stress models of depression, and intensified the relationship between exposure to ACEs and symptoms of depression for those who made more helpless attributions for the kinds of typical negative experiences encountered in childhood and adolescence (e.g. earning a poor grade at school). The implications for the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with children and adolescents is discussed. Recommendations for improving the poor long-term outcomes youth with depression symptoms often face due to a lack of general awareness regarding the pervasiveness nature of depression in childhood and adolescence, and a lack of effective, available treatment options are provided.

Committee Chair

Page, Timothy