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17 September 2021

Using CANTAB to understand the role of cognitive control and rumination in predicting depression among adolescents with internalising disorders

We recently caught up with Sanja Jandric, from the University of Osijek to discuss her research into the role of cognitive control and rumination in predicting depression among adolescents with internalising disorders.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I received my PhD from the Faculty of Medicine, Osijek in the scientific field of Biomedicine and Health, and I now work as a psychologist at the Unit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of the University Hospital Centre Osijek. As an associate, I also worked on the project “Croatian students in the European context: the emerging social elite” for the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb.

I am the author and co-author of several published scientific papers. I have also actively participated in several international and domestic psychological, psychiatric, and educational-rehabilitation congresses, symposia, and conferences.

Tell us a little about the background and methods of your research.

The findings of previous studies of cognitive control as a transdiagnostic risk factor for psychopathology suggest that cognitive control deficits underlie all psychiatric disorders in adults, yet there is little research provided in the field of developmental child and adolescent psychopathology. Cognitive strategies, which adolescents use to cope with stressors and to regulate their emotions in response to life stress have been shown to be an important risk factor for the development of psychopathology.

In the field of developmental psychopathology, less attention has been directed at the potential role of cognitive-emotional regulation processes such as ruminative response style. Previous studies have investigated the effects of experimentally induced ruminations on cognitive tasks that included effective focus attention, attentional shifting, and problem-solving. Results have shown that those with a greater tendency to ruminate, demonstrated lower levels of cognitive control, as well as a negative effect of rumination on almost all cognitive tasks.

A small number of studies have examined the relation between rumination and cognitive control in adolescents. To our knowledge, there are no studies examining the association in a clinical sample of adolescents. In line with this, we wanted to examine a new process model linking cognitive control impairments to symptoms of depression via rumination in adolescents suffering from internalizing disorders.

The study was cross-sectional and included 100 adolescents treated for internalizing disorders at the Unit for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of the University Hospital Center Osijek. A battery of psychodiagnostic tests were used, and participants also completed the CANTAB Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift Test (IED) task to examine cognitive control.

What were your key findings and implications of your study?

The current study found no evidence that cognitive control over non-emotional information is associated with depressive symptoms via rumination among adolescents with internalizing psychopathology. Results showed an extremely large predictive effect of gender and rumination on depressive symptoms, suggesting that adolescents with internalizing psychiatric disorders repeatedly focus on negative thoughts and experiences, which further impair behaviour and affective experiences, resulting in clinically high levels of depression which may underlie this vicious cycle.

Identifying youths with specific cognitive risk factors and further investigating deficits of cognitive control components can enhance our knowledge and help us understand how these factors relate to the aetiology of internalizing psychopathology within the developmental context. Findings can help us detect youth at risk and also create effective treatment programs and preventive interventions.

Why did you choose CANTAB for your study?

It was very important for us to measure cognitive control with an objective and reliable tool like CANTAB, so that the findings of the study can be replicable in further research. CANTAB uses non-verbal tasks and does not depend on any knowledge of language or linguistic skills so it is resistant to language and verbal differences among participants which was very important for us because of the objectivity of the provided research and possibility to replicate results.

Do you have any future research planned?

In future research, we want to investigate cognitive control over emotional information among an adolescent population, especially in clinical samples of adolescents. In addition to this, we want to identify other specific cognitive emotion regulation strategies in order to shed light on their impact on internalizing psychopathology. We are also conducting research in which we are examining the effects of cognitive control and rumination on the symptoms of anxiety in internalizing disorders.

Tags : cognition | cantab | cognitive testing | cantab testimonial | cognitive science | brain health | cognitive impairment

Author portrait

Sanja Jandric - Faculty of medicine, University of Osijek