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Affective control in adolescence: The influence of age and depressive symptomatology on working memory

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Stretton, Jason 
Dalgleish, Tim 


People exhibit marked individual variation in their ability to exercise cognitive control in affectively-charged situations. Affective control is typically assessed in laboratory settings by comparing performance in carefully constructed executive tasks performed in both affectively neutral and affectively-charged contexts. There is some evidence that affective control undergoes significant improvement throughout adolescence, though it is unclear how adolescents deemed at risk of developing depression exercise affective control despite poor affective control being identified as a contributing factor to ongoing mental ill-health in adulthood. The current study therefore investigated affective control in a large (n=425) sample of adolescents (aged 11-18 years) collected from 2016-2018. A simultaneous visuospatial search and written storage Working Memory (WM) capacity task was carried out to examine affective control, using affectively-neutral and affectively-negative social images as the task-irrelevant distractors. Overall, WM capacity increased as a function of age across both affective conditions. Moreover, we report a significant difference between affective conditions, with WM capacity slightly lower during trials with affectively-negative social scenes, relative to neutral. Performance in each condition and the performance ‘cost’ for completing the task in negative relative to neutral conditions was not modulated by depressive symptoms. Furthermore, age did not predict performance cost, irrespective of depressive symptoms. These findings suggest WM capacity is relatively robust against socio-affective contexts and mood in adolescents.



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American Psychological Association

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