Depression and depressive symptoms often emerge even in preteens and adolescents, with adolescent girls displaying notably higher incidences of depression than their male peers. A study released in the journal of Clinical Psychological Science seeks to examine these gender differences more thoroughly, and its findings suggest that teenage girls are more susceptible to depressive symptoms because they are more frequently exposed to stressful and anxiety inducing interpersonal events.

Negative Cognitive Styles, Anxiety, and Depression

Previous research has shown that cognitive styles, which can highly increase vulnerability to depression, often develop during adolescent years. These styles include negative cognitive processes, which can lead teens to interpret and process stressful events in more negative lights, and rumination. Such behaviors involve dwelling on or continuously thinking about stressful situations. These behaviors were the focus of the study, which examined the cognitive processes and rumination incidences of adolescents in response to anxiety-causing interpersonal events.

Monitoring Cognitive Styles in Adolescents

Researchers from several universities conducted the ongoing study on a pool of almost 400 participants. The participating adolescents completed four assessments, each seven months apart, in which their cognitive vulnerabilities and depressive symptoms were identified. As predicted prior to the initiation of the study, teens who reported more interpersonal stress and anxiety also recorded more negative cognitive styles and higher incidences of rumination. Researchers emphasized that teens ruminated more about anxiety-inducing interpersonal situations which were directly related to them, such as arguments with family or friends, as opposed to stressful situations which were out of their control, such as the death of a family member. Additionally, the results showed that other types of stress and anxiety, such as achievement-related anxiety, did not lead to rumination or negative cognitive behaviors.

In examining the results of all four assessments, researchers found that, while boys' depressive symptoms tended to decline along the course of the study, the symptoms of the girls did not. However, the study also showed that girls did not display a higher reactivity to stressful interpersonal situations. Instead, adolescent girls reported more frequent and sustained exposure to these anxiety inducing situations, explaining their consistently higher levels of rumination. Jessica Hamilton, lead author of the study, stated that “if boys and girls had been exposed to the same number of stressors, both would have been likely to develop rumination and negative cognitive styles."

The Implications of These Results

While the study identified a valuable aspect of depression vulnerability in adolescent girls, it's still unclear which aspect of female relationships makes them so anxiety-inducing. Hamilton added that the next step is figuring out exactly what contributes to the higher incidences of interpersonal stressors for teenage girls. She added that "parents, educators, and clinicians should understand that girls' greater exposure to interpersonal stressors places them at risk for vulnerability to depression", and emphasized the necessity of “finding ways to reduce exposure to these stressors or developing more effective ways of responding to these stressors".

Date of original publication:


Temple University; University of Wisconsin, Madison

Jessica L. Hamilton, Jonathan P. Stange, Lyn Y. Abramson, Lauren B. Alloy. Stress and the Development of Cognitive Vulnerabilities to Depression Explain Sex Differences in Depressive Symptoms During Adolescence. Clinical Psychological Science, 2 October 2014; DOI: 10.1177/2167702614545479