Longitudinal associations between cognitive deficits in childhood and psychopathological symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Department of Public Health Solutions
  • Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Specialist Mood Disorders Clinic

Abstract

Importance: Cognitive deficits are core features of mental disorders and are important in predicting long-term prognosis. However, it is still unknown whether individual patterns of cognitive deficits predate specific mental disorders.

Objective: To investigate the specificity of the associations of attention, working memory, and inhibition in childhood with borderline personality disorder (BPD), psychosis, depression, and hypomania in adolescence and young adulthood.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study obtained data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the United Kingdom. All pregnant women resident in Avon, United Kingdom, with an expected date of delivery from April 1, 1991, and December 31, 1992, were eligible. Data analysis was conducted from April 1 to September 30, 2020. The sample initially comprised 13988 participants who were alive at 1 year of age. For this study, data were available for 6333 individuals reporting on any psychopathological measure at ages 11 to 12 years, 4903 individuals at ages 17 to 18 years, and 2963 individuals at 22 to 23 years.

Exposures: Sustained attention, selective attention, and attentional control were assessed with the Test of Everyday Attention for Children at age 8 years, and working memory and inhibition were assessed at age 10 years with the Counting Span Task and the stop-signal paradigm, respectively.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Symptoms of BPD were assessed at ages 11 to 12 years, psychotic experiences and depression were examined at ages 17 to 18 years, and hypomania was examined at ages 22 to 23 years.

Results: Among 5315 individuals included in the statistical analysis, 2551 (48.0%) were male and 2764 (52.0) were female. Higher sustained attention at 8 years was associated with decreased risk of BPD symptoms at ages 11 to 12 years (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.964; 95% CI, 0.933-0.996; P =.03), better performance on inhibition at age 10 years with decreased risk of psychotic experiences at ages 17 to 18 years (aOR, 0.938; 95% CI, 0.890-0.989; P =.02), higher sustained attention at age 8 years with decreased risk of depressive symptoms at ages 17 to 18 years (aOR, 0.969; 95% CI 0.938-0.9997; P =.048), and better performance in working memory at age 10 years with decreased risk of hypomania symptoms at ages 22 to 23 years (aOR, 0.694; 95% CI, 0.529-0.911; P =.008). After controlling for potential psychopathological overlay, all the associations remained, except for working memory and hypomania. Higher sustained attention at age 8 years was associated with decreased risk of BPD symptoms at ages 11 to 12 years (β = -0.05; P <001) and of depression at ages 17 to 18 years (β = -0.03; P =.04), and better performance in inhibition at age 10 years was associated with decreased risk of psychotic experiences at ages 17 to 18 years (β = -0.03; P =.04).

Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that specific cognitive deficits in childhood are distinctively associated with different psychopathological symptoms in young people. Furthermore, these results suggest the potential of early cognitive interventions in childhood as a way of modifying or attenuating risk for subsequent psychopathological symptoms.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere214724
Number of pages13
JournalJAMA network open
Volume4
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2021

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