College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Smith Carter, PhD

Second Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD


Depression is the leading cause of worldwide disability. Rates of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) increase exponentially over the adolescent transition, suggesting adolescence represents a key period of risk for the onset of depression. Previous research has associated both biological stress response and cognitive vulnerability with symptoms of depression; however, there is little research examining the joint effects of these two risk factors and symptoms of depression, especially during adolescence. The present study examined the association between symptoms of depression and two established risk factors for depression: cognitive vulnerability, as measured by negative cognitive style, and biological stress response, as measured by cortisol reactivity, in a diverse sample of 187 adolescents (52% female, mean age = 14.4 years-old). Participants completed interviews and questionnaires to assess depressive symptoms and cognitive styles, as well as a laboratory social stress task to elicit a biological stress response. Results showed that neither negative cognitive style at T1 (time 1) nor cortisol response to stress at T1 were statistically significant independent predictors of adolescents’ depressive symptoms at T2 (time 2), when controlling for T1 depression, gender, and life stress. However, as hypothesized, a significant interaction effect between cortisol response to stress and negative cognitive style emerged. At lower levels of physiological reactivity to stress, a more negative cognitive style predicted more T2 depressive symptoms, but this relation was not found at higher levels of physiological reactivity. Additionally, sex, but not previous stress exposure further moderated this relationship such that the effect was present for girls, but not for boys. Findings from the current study provide evidence that cognitive and biological factors interact to influence the onset of depression in adolescence. Results also shed light on potential mechanisms that contribute to observed sex differences in rates of depression over adolescence.

SLP Collection