Vulnerability, scar, or reciprocal risk? Temporal ordering of self-esteem and depressive symptoms over 25 years

Matthew D Johnson, Nancy L Galambos, Harvey J Krahn


Three models have been proposed to explain the temporal interrelation between self-esteem and symptoms of depression: vulnerability (self-esteem predicts future depressive symptoms), scar (depressive symptoms predict future self-esteem), and reciprocal risk (self-esteem and depressive symptoms predict each other in the future). This study tested these three models over 25 years in a sample of high school seniors surveyed six times from age 18 to 43 (n = 978) and in a separate sample of university graduates surveyed five times from age 23 to 30 (n = 589). In both samples, autoregressive cross-lagged modeling results were that self-esteem and symptoms of depression prospectively predicted each other at every measurement occasion. Additionally, the cross-lagged association from self-esteem to symptoms of depression and the corresponding link from depressive symptoms to future self-esteem were equally strong. These results provide support for the reciprocal risk model.


depressive symptoms; longitudinal; mental health; reciprocal risk; scar model; self-esteem; vulnerability model

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