Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health

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Adolescent positive self, negative self: associated but dissociable?

Tianyuan Ke, Jia Wu, Cynthia J. Willner, Zachariah Brown, Michael J. Crowley


Adolescence is a period of significant identity development and particular vulnerability to depression associated with negative self-evaluation. We investigated if increased depressive symptom severity was also associated with positive self-evaluation. We also considered pubertal developmental differences in positive and negative self-evaluation, and if these could reflect dissociated facets of the self. This cross-sectional sample consisted of healthy male and female adolescents (N = 109) aged 12–17 from the United States. Participants completed a self-referential encoding task, which required them to indicate if a single-word adjective was self-descriptive. We administered the Children’s Depression Inventory, the Pubertal Development Scale, and the Child Narcissism Scale. Negative-word endorsement was significantly predicted by pubertal maturation level and depressive symptoms, but not by narcissism. Positive-word endorsement was significantly predicted by narcissism and negatively predicted by depressive symptoms, but not by pubertal maturation. In this typically developing sample, positive self-judgment does not vary across the pubertal range and is positively associated with narcissistic traits, and negatively associated with depressive symptom severity. Negative self-judgements are positively correlated with puberty and are associated with depressive symptom severity only. Our findings suggest that negative and positive aspects of the self are partially dissociable.

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