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Depression Symptoms Less Likely in Kids with Accurate Self-Perceptions

Children who can accurately assess how their classmates feel about them — even if those feelings are negative — are less likely to show symptoms of depression // , according to Florida State University researchers.

Psychology Professor Janet Kistner found that children in third through fifth grades who had the wrong idea about their level of social acceptance were more likely to develop symptoms of depression over time. The study, “Bias and Accuracy of Children’s Perceptions of Peer Acceptance: Prospective Associations with Depressive Symptoms,” was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Graduate students Corinne David-Ferdon and Karla Repper and psychology Professor Thomas Joiner were co-authors.

“There’s a long-running debate in the field of psychology about whether realistic perceptions are a hallmark of positive adjustment or they are associated with risk for depression,” Kistner said. “Our results support the perspective that realistic perceptions are a hallmark of mental health.”

The findings are significant because they show that accuracy is the key — not whether children thought that other kids liked them or not. That’s important because some psychologists have theorized that people who have a positive bias — meaning they think others like them more than they actually do — are protected against developing symptoms of depression, while those who have a negative bias are prone to maladjustment and depression. The researchers found neither to be true.

Instead, they found that those who had symptoms of depression at the start of the study over time became less accurate and more negatively biased about how well they were liked, indicating that negative bias is more of a consequence than a cause of depressive symptoms. The researchers are the first to look at both bias and accuracy, and the findings underscore the importance of studying both facets of perceptual errors, Kistner said.

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