Vulnerability-specific stress generation: Childhood emotional abuse and the mediating role of depressogenic interpersonal processes.

Research paper by Evelyn M EM Hernandez, Zoë M ZM Trout, Richard T RT Liu

Indexed on: 14 Nov '16Published on: 14 Nov '16Published in: Child Abuse & Neglect


Stress generation in depression (i.e. the tendency for depression-prone individuals to experience more life stress that is in part influenced by the individual) has been well established. However, more research is necessary to clarify the role of specific types of life stress in this effect. The current study extends the stress generation hypothesis by examining whether the type of stress involved is contingent upon the nature of the individual's particular vulnerability. Childhood emotional abuse and interpersonal vulnerability factors were predicted to be associated with prospective interpersonal dependent but not non-interpersonal or independent stress. These interpersonal factors were examined as mediators of the association between childhood emotional abuse and interpersonal stress generation. Data were collected from 185 undergraduate participants at two time-points, four months apart. At baseline, participants completed assessments of depressive symptoms, childhood abuse history, interpersonal risk factors (rejection sensitivity, excessive reassurance-seeking, and negative feedback-seeking), and a diagnostic interview for depression. At the follow-up assessment, participants completed a life stress interview. Childhood emotional abuse prospectively predicted greater interpersonal dependent stress, but not non-interpersonal dependent or independent stress. Only rejection sensitivity mediated this relationship. Consistent with the stress generation hypothesis, neither childhood emotional abuse nor the three interpersonal risk factors predicted independent stress. These findings suggest that targeting interpersonal vulnerabilities in clinical settings, particularly rejection sensitivity, among individuals with a history of childhood emotional abuse, may help to reduce the occurrence of interpersonal dependent stress, thus possibly decreasing risk for depression.