Prevalence and correlates of maladaptive guilt in middle childhood

Meghan Rose Donohue, Rebecca Tillman, Michael T. Perino, Diana J. Whalen, Joan Luby, Deanna M. Barch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Maladaptive guilt can develop by age three and is associated with severe affective psychopathology in adolescents and adults. Yet, little is known about its prevalence prior to adolescence, or which children are at greatest risk of developing this symptom. This study examined the prevalence and correlates of maladaptive guilt in middle childhood. Methods: This study examined a large community sample of 9-to 10-year-old children (N = 4485) from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Maladaptive guilt was assessed through the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for DSM-5. Parental rejection, family conflict, and parental depression were assessed via questionnaires. Results: In depressed children, a 1-month prevalence of maladaptive guilt of 18.4% and a lifetime prevalence of 30.8% was found. Lifetime rates ranged from 1.8 to 4.1% in children with other psychiatric disorders. Cross-sectionally, maladaptive guilt was associated with lower family income-to-needs, greater family conflict, a history of maternal depression, and greater parental rejection. These findings held when controlling for children's depressive severity, indicating that these associations are specific to maladaptive guilt. Limitations: Maladaptive guilt was assessed through one item, though many studies of maladaptive guilt measure the symptom in this manner. Conclusions: Findings suggest that it may be beneficial for clinicians to assess for maladaptive guilt beyond the context of assessment for depression, particularly with children of low socioeconomic status and children of depressed mothers, whom this study suggests are at higher risk. Negative family climates and parenting might also be important targets of preventative interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-71
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of affective disorders
StatePublished - Feb 15 2020


  • Family conflict
  • Maladaptive guilt
  • Maternal depression
  • Negative parenting
  • Prevalence


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