Childhood Emotion Dysregulation Mediates the Relationship Between Preschool Emotion Labeling and Adolescent Depressive Symptoms

Allison E. Hollender, Nourhan M. Elsayed, Alecia C. Vogel, Rebecca Tillman, Deanna M. Barch, Joan L. Luby, Kirsten E. Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deficits in emotion processing (e.g., emotion labeling and regulation) are widely implicated in depression risk. While prior literature documents these deficits in concurrence with depression, more research is needed to investigate emotion processing pathways of depression risk across development. The purpose of this study was to investigate if emotion processes (i.e., emotion labeling and emotion regulation/dysregulation) in early and middle childhood predict adolescent depressive symptom severity in a prospective sample. Data were analyzed from a longitudinal study of diverse preschoolers oversampled for depressive symptoms using measures of preschool emotion labeling of faces (i.e., Facial Affect Comprehension Evaluation), middle childhood emotion regulation and dysregulation (i.e., emotion regulation checklist), and adolescent depressive symptoms (i.e., PAPA, CAPA, and KSADS-PL diagnostic interviews). Multilevel models indicated that preschoolers with depression had similar development of emotion labeling in early childhood as peers. Mediation analyses revealed that deficits in preschool-aged anger and surprise labeling ability indirectly predicted higher adolescent depressive symptom severity through increased middle childhood emotion lability/negativity, not decreased emotion regulation. Adolescent depression may be predicted by an emotion processing pathway that spans from early childhood to adolescence, and findings may generalize to high risk for depression youth samples. Specifically, poor emotion labeling in early childhood may lead to increased childhood emotion lability/negativity, which increases the risk for adolescent depressive symptom severity. Findings may help identify specific emotion processing relations in childhood that increase the risk for depression and inform intervention aimed at improving preschoolers’ anger and surprise labeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-92
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 18 2023


  • adolescence
  • depression
  • early childhood
  • emotion labeling
  • emotion regulation


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