Not All Adversity is Created Equal: Differential Associations of Adversity Profiles with Adolescent Cognitive Control and Psychopathology
Brieant, Alexis Emily
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Adverse experiences have long-term consequences for biological, behavioral, and psychosocial adjustment. Adolescents may be particularly susceptible to these effects due to heightened sensitivity to environmental influences, the protracted development of the prefrontal cortex, and risk for psychopathology. We used a person-centered approach to characterize distinct profiles of adversity in early adolescence, and examined associations with later cognitive control and psychopathology. One hundred and sixty-seven adolescents (53% male) and their primary caregivers participated in a longitudinal study, with approximately one year in between each assessment. At Time 1 (Mage = 14.07 years), we collected reports on seven indicators of adversity: socioeconomic disadvantage, abuse, neglect, household chaos, parent substance use, parent depression, and negative life events. At Times 2, 3, and 4, adolescents' behavioral performance and blood-oxygenation-level-dependent response during a cognitive control task were measured. Two years later, at Time 5, adolescents and their caregiver reported on adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptomatology. Using latent profile analysis, we identified three distinct adversity subgroups: a low risk group, a low socioeconomic status (SES)/high parent substance use (SU) group, and a high risk group. Adolescents in the low SES/high parent SU group had the lowest levels of behavioral cognitive control. Furthermore, the low SES/high parent SU group and the high risk group both had significantly higher levels of psychopathology relative to the low risk group. There were no significant group differences with respect to neural cognitive control, and neither neural nor behavioral cognitive control predicted psychopathology. A cumulative risk approach using a mean score of adversity produced a similar general pattern of results, but obscured the unobserved heterogeneity in adverse experiences. These results highlight the utility of a person-centered approach to the characterization of adversity in adolescence and illustrate distinct developmental consequences for cognitive functioning and psychopathology. We expand upon prior empirical work by demonstrating that the co-occurrence of low SES and parent substance use may place adolescents at increased risk for deficits in behavioral cognitive control, which may be an important target for intervention and prevention efforts.
General Audience Abstract
During childhood and adolescence, most individuals are exposed to some form of adversity, such as abuse, neglect, poverty, or parent mental illness. These factors can have long-term effects on brain functioning and mental health. Adolescents may be especially affected by adversity because their brain is in an important stage of development and they are also more sensitive to social and environmental influences. The purpose of this study was to better understand if certain patterns of adversity experiences were associated with adolescents' self-regulation abilities and mental health outcomes. We recruited 167 adolescents and their primary caregivers from the community and asked them to report on adolescents' experiences of adversity at age 13-14. Specifically, we asked about socioeconomic status, abuse, neglect, household chaos, parent substance use, parent depression, and negative life events. Once each year for the next three years, adolescents completed a self-regulation task while they were in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. We examined their performance on the task as well as their brain activation. Two years later, at 18-19 years old, adolescents and their caregiver reported on the adolescent's mental health symptoms. Results indicated that there were three groups of adolescents with different combinations of adverse experiences: a low risk group, a low socioeconomic status (SES)/high parent substance use (SU) group, and a high risk group. Adolescents in the low SES/high parent SU group had the worst performance on the self-regulation task. Furthermore, both the low SES/high parent SU group and the high risk group had significantly higher mental health problems relative to the low risk group. There were group differences in terms of brain activation. Finally, neither performance nor brain activation during self-regulation was associated with mental health problems. We also tested these associations by using an average score of adversity, rather than dividing participants into subgroups. When we compared these approaches, the results were generally similar, but the subgroup approach provided more specific information about what types of experiences put adolescents at higher risk for self-regulation and mental health problems. Thus, the subgroup approach may be useful for better understanding the nuanced consequences of adversity. Our findings further show that the co-occurrence of low SES and parent substance use may place adolescents at increased risk for deficits in self-regulation, which may be an important target for intervention and prevention efforts.
- Doctoral Dissertations