Peer Victimization and Depressive Symptoms: The Role of Body Dissatisfaction and Self-Esteem

By Benas, Jessica S.; Gibb, Brandon E. | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Peer Victimization and Depressive Symptoms: The Role of Body Dissatisfaction and Self-Esteem


Benas, Jessica S., Gibb, Brandon E., Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


Research has suggested that different forms of negative cognitions contribute risk to the development of depressive symptoms. What remains unclear is whether there is specificity regarding the relation between childhood experiences and young adults' current cognitions and whether these cognitions each contribute unique risk to depressive symptoms or whether they interact to predict increased depression risk. The primary goal of the current study was to examine the relation between depressive symptoms and young adults' histories of negative childhood events (e.g., weight-related teasing) and whether certain types of negative cognitions (e.g., body dissatisfaction) mediate this relation. Supporting our specificity hypothesis, low self-esteem mediated the link between general peer verbal victimization during childhood and current depressive symptoms, and body dissatisfaction mediated the link between weight-related teasing during childhood and current depressive symptoms. In addition, supporting the interactive nature of forms of cognitive vulnerability, low levels of self-esteem, combined with high levels of body dissatisfaction, were associated with the highest levels of depressive symptoms.

Keywords: verbal victimization; teasing; depression; self-esteem; body dissatisfaction

According to Beck's theory of depression (e.g., Clark, Beck, & Alford, 1999), negative views of one's self contribute to both the development and the maintenance of depression. Building from this, cognitive-interpersonal models of depression (e.g., Hammen, 1992) emphasize the interplay between these cognitive variables and individuals' interpersonal relations. These theories focus primarily on the role of negative interpersonal events in activating pre-existing event-congruent schema that then contribute to depression. In this way, they focus on the role of negative self-schema in moderating the link between negative interpersonal events and depressive symptoms. Although there is considerable research supporting these theories (for reviews, see Clark et al., 1999; Gibb & Coles, 2005; Hammen, 1999), there is also evidence that negative interpersonal events may contribute to the development of these negative self-views.

Theorists (e.g., Cole, 1991; Cole, Jacquez, & Maschman, 2001; Rose & Abramson, 1992) have suggested that one's self-views develop, in part, based on the messages received from others, which become internalized and increasingly stable with age. Supporting this hypothesis, there is evidence that changes in children's negative thoughts about themselves are predicted by negative evaluations from peers and that these negative self-evaluations mediate the link between peer messages and the development of depression (Cole, Martin, & Powers, 1997; Cole et al., 2001). More generally, studies have found that experiences of verbal victimization predict changes in children's depressive cognitions and that these cognitions mediate the link between verbal victimization and the development of both symptoms and diagnoses of depression (e.g., Gibb & Alloy, 2006; Gibb et al., 2001). Emphasizing the importance of studying messages children receive from their peers, there is evidence that verbal victimization from peers is significantly related to young adults' depressive cognitions even when the influence of emotional maltreatment from their parents is statistically controlled (Gibb, Abramson, & Alloy, 2004). What remains unclear from this research, however, is whether there is any specificity in terms of the messages received from peers and the types of cognitions that form. It is possible that general verbal victimization from peers is related to young adults' global views of themselves (i.e., self-esteem), whereas more specific messages from peers is related to the presence of content-specific negative cognitions about oneself. In the current study, we tested this specificity hypothesis by examining the relation between general verbal victimization and a specific form of verbal victimization, specifically weight-related teasing, during childhood and young adults' current levels of self-esteem and body dissatisfaction.

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