Core Dimensions of Anxiety and Depression Change Independently During Adolescence

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The developmental trajectories of emotional disorder symptoms during adolescence remain elusive, owing in part to a shortage of intensive longitudinal data. In the present study, we charted the temporal course of the tripartite model of anxiety and depression—which posits an overarching negative affect dimension and specific anhedonia and anxious arousal dimensions—over adolescence and emerging adulthood to construct a developmental map of the core dimensions of emotional disorders. We recruited 604 high school juniors, overselecting those at high risk for emotional disorders, and assessed the tripartite symptom domains 5 times annually. Latent curve modeling revealed that negative affect and anxious arousal declined over follow up, whereas anhedonia did not. Moreover, the correlation in rate of change varied across pairs of symptom domains. Change in negative affect was moderately correlated with change in anxious arousal, but change in anhedonia was not significantly related to change in any other domain. Symptom trajectories, and the pattern of covariation among trajectories, were equivalent across gender and comorbidity status. We discuss implications of these findings for developmental models of anxiety and depression, as well as transdiagnostic frameworks for emotional disorders.

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