Project descriptions: Internalizing and externalizing psychological disorders

Project 2-1

Theory of Mind, Executive Function and antisocial Behavior (2011–2014)

The aim of this promotion project is to investigate deficits in recognition of mental states of other people (Theory of Mind) as well as reduced cognitive control of thoughts and actions (Executive Functions) as potential intrapersonal risk factors of antisocial behavior. Both risk factors will be measured by means of varying computer-based tasks. Accordingly instructed children should react to stimuli presented on a computer screen (e.g. fish, donkey) by pressing certain buttons. In order to record data for the concept of antisocial behavior, scientifically recognized questionnaires should be used. They give information about parents’ assessment of social behavior of their child.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Elsner, Prof. Dr. Krahé & M.Sc. Gina Austin (Kohorte 1)

Theory of Mind, Executive Function and Antisocial Behavior (2014-2017)

Main issue of this project is to examine possible risk factors for the development of antisocial behavior in middle childhood and preadolescence. While focusing on the ability to infer mental and emotional states of other persons (Theory of Mind, ToM), and higher order cognitive processes (Executive Functions, EF), different aspects of these processes are taken into account. Shamay-Tsoory et al. (2009) distinguished cognitive and affective ToM as making inferences on others’ beliefs and emotions, respectively. Different computer tasks are applied to measure both facets of ToM, and three aspects of EF, namely inhibition, set shifting and updating (Miyake, 2000), recording accuracy and reaction time. Antisocial behaviors are rated by the childrens’ parents on the newest version of CBCL items (Achenbach et al., 2014).

The Social Information Processing Model (Crick & Dodge, 1996), amongst other theories, provides the theoretical background for our hypotheses. Thereby it is assumed that children behave in aggressive ways as a consequence of their deficits in the processing of important social cues.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Elsner, Prof. Dr. Krahé & Dipl.-Psych. Anna Katharina Holl (Kohorte 2)

Project 2-2

Formation and consolidation of aggressive patterns of behavior in adolescence

Aggressive behavior has been shown to be particularly stable and persistent over the course of development, tending to evolve early in life and to continue into adolescence and adulthood. The aim of this project is to identify and examine the influence of potential risk factors and mediators in the etiological process of aggression, focusing on the dynamic interplay between individuals and their social environment. Based on the assumptions of the social-interactional model proposed by Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey (1989), we investigate the relevance of social rejection, affiliation with aggressive peers and academic failure as risks for the chronification of aggression in childhood and adolescence, thereby considering the role of social reinforcement mechanisms and external control beliefs as potential mediators.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Krahé, Prof. Dr. Warschburger & Dipl.-Psych. Janis Jung (Kohorte 1)

Project 2-3

Anger regulation and aggression in middle and late childhood

This project examines the relationship of anger regulation and aggressive behavior in middle childhood. Although there are a bunch of studies that reveal a substantial correlation of these constructs, the vast majority of such studies have assessed more general regulation skills. Studies taking specific regulation strategies into account were able to demonstrate that this correlation varies depending on the strategies. In order to develop effective prevention and intervention programs it is essential to consider anger regulation in a more differentiated way. Using a longitudinal study design, this project aims to investigate the predictive role of individual differences in anger regulation strategy use in the development of aggressive behavior tendencies. Moreover, it is expected that deficits in anger regulation may have a negative impact on peer acceptance. Therefore, social rejection is also taken into consideration. As a result we are able to examine mutual influences of aggression and social rejection which may partly be due to deficits in affective regulation abilities.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Krahé & Dipl.-Psych. Helena Rohlf (Kohorte 1) and 
Prof. Dr. Krahé, Dr. Busching & M.Sc. Fabian Kirsch (Kohorte 2)

Project 2-4

Dysfunctional Cognitions and Depression in Childhood and Adolescence

This project aims to explore the impact of dysfunctional cognitions as an intrapersonal risk factor for depressive symptoms and depressive disorders in children and adolescents. In particular, cognitive theories for which good empirical evidence was obtained in adult populations will be tested longitudinally for their applicability to the emergence of child and adolescent depression.The current research literature lacks findings from longitudinal studies covering this young age range (Lakdawalla, 2007). The following aspects of Beck´s cognitive theory of depression (Beck, 1967, 1976) will be investigated in particular: First, it has not clearly been established yet whether dysfunctional cognitions represent a cause, consequence or epiphenomenon of depression.

In this context, non-linear effects of dysfunctional attitudes will also be addressed including a threshold model of cognitive vulnerability in which only high levels dysfunctional cognitions show relations to future depressive symptoms. Second, the question of whether effects of dysfunctional cognitions are specific to depression or whether they might also increase vulnerability to other symptom domains (e.g. disordered eating behavior or learning problems) will be addressed in order to provide reliable foundations for prevention approaches.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Esser & Dipl.-Psych. Fidan Sahyazici-Knaak (Kohorte 1) and 
Prof. Dr. Esser, Prof. Dr. Krahé, Dr. Wyschkon & M.Sc. Susanne Meiser (Kohorte 2)