UBC Theses and Dissertations
Cognitive disengagement and biological stress responses in youth Jopling, Ellen
Depression and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent classes of mental illness in youth and are associated with severe long-term impairment. Thus, a thorough understanding of factors contributing to the development of these disorders is paramount. Evidence indicates that maladaptive biological responses to stress increase risk for the onset of depression and anxiety, but the mechanisms underlying individual differences in stress responsivity are unclear. Importantly, evidence suggests that individual differences in cognitive disengagement biases, or difficulty disengaging from valenced material, may be associated with individual differences in biological responses to stress. The current study extends past research by investigating, for the first time, whether difficulty cognitively disengaging from valenced stimuli is associated with individual differences in biological responses to stress in a sample of preadolescents. A sample of 43 preadolescents completed two computer-based tasks to assess biases in both attentional disengagement and working memory disengagement. In addition, stress responsivity was indexed by levels of both cortisol and alpha-amylase in response to a psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test for Children (TSST-C; Buske-Kirschbaum et al., 1997). It was hypothesized that disengagement biases for negative stimuli would be significantly associated with prolonged biological recovery from stress. Findings indicated that both attentional and working memory disengagement biases were associated with baseline levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, and with the slope of biological recovery from stress; however, the direction of some findings were unexpected. In addition, working memory biases were associated with the slope of alpha-amylase reactivity to stress. The current results contribute to theoretical models of the relation between cognition and biological responses by identifying potential candidate cognitive mechanisms that are associated with individual differences in cortisol and alpha-amylase responses to stress. The current study also presents an important methodological advancement in the literature by examining the relative contribution of both attentional and working memory disengagement biases to the prediction of both neuroendocrine and autonomic nervous system responses to stress. Understanding the association between cognition and biological responses to stress may facilitate the development of personalized, transdiagnostic treatments for youth who show biological stress profiles that increase their risk of developing depression or anxiety.
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