Child Gain Approach and Loss Avoidance Behavior: Relationships With Depression Risk, Negative Mood, and Anhedonia

Katherine R. Luking, David Pagliaccio, Joan L. Luby, Deanna M. Barch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective Reduced reward responsiveness and altered response to loss of reward are observed in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) and adolescents at increased risk for MDD based on family history. However, it is unclear whether altered behavioral responsiveness to reward/loss is a lifelong marker of MDD risk, which is evident before the normative adolescent increase in incentive responding. Method Healthy 7- to 10-year-old children of mothers with MDD (high risk: n = 27) or without MDD (low risk: n = 42) performed 2 signal detection tasks assessing response bias toward reward (approach) and away from loss (avoidance). Differences in approach/avoidance were related to MDD risk, child general depressive symptoms (maternal report), child-reported anhedonic symptoms, and child-reported negative mood symptoms via repeated-measures analysis of variance. Results MDD risk did not significantly relate to gain approach or loss avoidance. However, within high-risk children, higher numbers of maternal depressive episodes predicted blunted loss avoidance. Blunted gain approach was related to elevated anhedonic symptoms, whereas enhanced loss avoidance was related to elevated negative mood. Elevated negative mood was further related to blunted gain approach in high-risk children but related to enhanced gain approach in low-risk children. Conclusion In children, individual differences in specific depressive symptoms and recurrence of maternal depression significantly predicted gain approach/loss avoidance, but the presence/absence of maternal MDD did not. Child depressive symptoms characterized by low positive affect (anhedonia) were related to blunted gain responsiveness, whereas elevated depressed/negative mood was related to enhanced loss responsiveness. Findings suggest that relations between gain approach and negative mood may be an important distinction between those at high versus low risk for MDD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1224
Pages (from-to)643-651
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • anhedonia
  • depression risk
  • punishment
  • reward


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