Social and Adaptive Functioning Deficits in Children with Anxiety Disorders: The Buffering Effects of Effortful Control

Date

2022-08-23

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Abstract

Introduction: Although effortful control – the ability to restrain impulsive reactions in favor of more adaptive responses – has been identified as a protective factor for childhood anxiety, its protective effects in terms of anxious children’s social/adaptive functioning remains unexplored. To fill this gap, the present study examined the moderating role of effortful control in the association between anxiety/depression symptom severity and social/adaptive functioning in a sample of clinically anxious youth. It was hypothesized that more severe anxiety/depression symptoms would be associated with poorer global and individual social/adaptive functioning deficits among anxious youth with lower (vs. higher) effortful control. Method: The present study is a secondary analysis of data from a study investigating the role of cognitive biases in childhood anxiety (Viana et al., 2019). Participants were 105 clinically anxious youth (M = 10.07 years, SD = 1.22; 57% female; 61% ethnic minority) and their clinically anxious mothers (M = 39.35 years, SD = 7.05) who completed a battery of questionnaires assessing effortful control, anxiety symptoms, and social/adaptive functioning as part of a baseline assessment. Results: Greater effortful control was significantly associated with better global and individual social/adaptive functioning scores and lower anxiety/depression scores. Moderation analyses revealed that greater anxiety symptom severity was associated with poorer peer relationships among youth with lower (vs. higher) effortful control (B = -0.04, SE = 0.02, t = -2.32, p < 0.05, 95% CI [-0.07, 0.01]). Greater depression symptom severity was also associated with poorer peer relationships among youth with lower (vs. higher) effortful control (B = -0.20, SE = 0.07, t = -2.98, p < 0.01, 95% CI [-0.33, -0.07]). Discussion: Greater effortful control was associated with better social/adaptive functioning and lower anxiety/depression among anxious youth. Findings also suggest that greater effortful control may protect against the negative effects that symptoms of anxiety/depression can have on the peer relationships of clinically anxious youth.

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Keywords

Anxiety, Depression, Effortful control, Children, Childhood, Emotion regulation

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