Date of Award

12-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Cynthia A. Erdley

Second Committee Member

Douglas W. Nangle

Third Committee Member

Margaret C. Fernald

Abstract

The main purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of peer experiences (i.e., peer acceptance, friendship quality) on the relationships between interpersonal processes (i.e., negative feedback-seeking, susceptibility to peer influence) and depressive symptoms in preadolescents. Specifically, positive peer experiences (i.e., high levels of peer acceptance and friendship quality) during preadolescence were hypothesized to buffer the associations between interpersonal processes and depressive symptoms. Social self-esteem was examined as an additional moderator of those associations and social anxiety was explored as another internalizing symptom potentially associated with the interpersonal processes investigated in the study. Furthermore, possible gender and developmental differences in these associations were examined. Participants included 180 students (76 male) from the 5th and 6th grades of public elementary and middle schools in small Maine towns. Each participant completed self- report measures of peer acceptance, friendship quality, negative feedback-seeking, susceptibility to peer influence, social self-esteem, and depressive and social anxiety symptoms across two study sessions. Results indicated that, consistent with the adolescent literature, interpersonal processes and low social self-esteem are related to high levels of depressive and social anxiety symptoms for preadolescents. Positive peer experiences appeared to be particularly important for preadolescent males, as high levels of peer acceptance and friendship quality weakened the association between negative feedback-seeking and depressive symptoms. In addition, high social self-esteem appeared to serve as a buffer of the association between negative feedback-seeking and depressive symptoms for males. Although no moderation effects of peer experiences or social self- esteem were obtained for female preadolescents, findings suggested a vulnerability to social anxiety for females who engage in negative feedback-seeking. Overall, the results of this study highlight the importance of incorporating a focus on improving peer experiences and decreasing engagement in maladaptive interpersonal processes in the design of intervention programs for youth experiencing depressive and/or social anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, a better understanding of gender differences can help tailor these interventions to increase effectiveness. Future research should continue to examine these associations with more diverse samples and longitudinal designs to further understand the nature of them and better inform the design of interventions for depressed youth.

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