Relations between biased interpretations of facial expressions, social withdrawal, and depressive mood in adolescents

A.E. Aleva, Y. van Beek

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Social withdrawal in youth may develop through the experience of problematic peer relationships to a depressed mood in early adolescence (Rubin, Coplan, & Bowker, 2009). The current study examines a bias in the interpretations of facial expressions and its association with social withdrawal, depressive mood and perceived quality of peer relations. Based on other studies (e.g. Kokin et al., 2016) it was expected that socially withdrawn adolescents attribute more negative emotions and dislike in the facial expressions of peers than other adolescents. 430 Dutch adolescents (13-18 years) viewed a total of 30 basic and non-basic facial expressions displaying joy, anger, and sadness. For each expression, participants rated (a) the intensity of joy, anger, and sadness, and b) how much someone with these expressions would like them (van Beek & Dubas, 2008). Participants also completed the Revised Class Play, the Children’s Depression Inventory, and a measure for the perceived quality of peer relations. Regression analyses indicated that social withdrawal was related to both depressive mood and sadness in non-basis facial expressions. Sadness in facial expressions was related to depressive mood, but did not moderate or mediate the relation between social withdrawal and depressive mood. Social withdrawal and the interpretation of sadness in facial expressions were related to negative quality of peer relationships. No significant relations were found between ratings of dislike in facial expressions and social withdrawal (p <.06) and depressive mood. It is concluded that both perceiving more sadness in facial expressions, and social withdrawal predicted depressive mood and the perception of negative quality of peer relations. These findings may have implications for interventions for socially withdrawn youth, especially social skills training approaches.


Conference3rd International congress of clinical and Health psychology on children and adolescents. Book of Abstracts. EdicionesPiramide, Spain, 2017, ISBN 84-217-2848-5832
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