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Depression Symptoms Less Likely in Kids with Accurate Self-Perceptions

le attention has been given to the role that inaccurate self-perceptions may play in children’s risk for depression,” she said. “Our results suggest a possible self-perpetuating cycle in which inaccurate perceptions lead to elevated depressive symptoms and depressive symptoms lead to decreased accuracy of perceived peer acceptance.”

The findings are consistent with psychological theories that attempt to explain social competence and general adjustment, according to Kistner. Self-verification theory suggests that people are motivated to maintain their self-perceptions, even if they are negative. Even positive feedback can cause distress if it threatens their view of themselves. Social competence theories center on the idea that children who accurately perceive how others feel about them are better able to modulate their behaviors in ways that maximize acceptance. Greater social acceptance, in turn, is expected to be associated with fewer symptoms of depression.

In Kistner’s study, 667 children were given class rosters at the beginning of the school year and asked how much they liked their classmates on a scale of one to five and to predict the acceptance ratings they would receive from each of their classmates. Their predicted ratings were compared to the actual ratings they received to measure perceptual accuracy. The children also were asked to complete a questionnaire about whether they had experienced symptoms of depression, including feeling sad, trouble concentrating and sleeping problems. The experiment was repeated six months later.

The average age of the children at the start of the study was 9.4 years old. Prior to about age 8, children’s self-perceptions tend to be glowingly positive and unrealistic, according to Kistner. As children’s cognitive abilities develop and they begin to rely on social comparisons to evaluate themselves, their exuberance gives way to more realistic — and sometimes negative — self-perceptions. <
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