Understanding the emotions and thoughts of others is a highly complex ability, which ensures the survival of humans. Among other things, the mutual understanding of intentions and desires allows secure bonding, the successful realization of goals, and compromise in conflict situations. The development of social-cognitive abilities starts as early as in infancy by recognizing facial expressions of emotions of one's parents and it further differentiates in adolescence.
Several mental disorders, such as autism or schizophrenia, are associated with abnormalities in the development of social-cognitive abilities. Recent studies suggest that depressed individuals exhibit altered social-cognitive abilities as well. It remains unclear whether social-cognitive impairments are a state or trait marker of major depression. Even though social-cognitive abilities develop throughout the first two decades of life, only adult patients have been examined so far.
The SAD youth study is the first to investigate social-cognitive abilities of adolescents with depression. We assume that parental factors (e.g. mental diseases), childhood traumata and genetic factors lead to an insecure attachment, which facilitates an “abnormal development” of social-cognitive abilities. The altered social-cognitive abilities, in turn, fascilitates the development of depressive disorders in adolescence. The study examines 11- to 17-year-old depressed as well as healthy adolescents. New experimental measures will be applied to capture the processing of emotions and perspective-taking. Additionally, saliva samples will be collected for an analysis of genes associated with depression as well as with social-cognitive abilities.
Project leadership: Dipl.-Psych. Stefan Lüttke
Collaborations: Universitätsklinik Tübingen (Prof. Dr. T. Renner), Universitätsklinik Leipzig (Dr. A. Klein)