This study assessed whether a specific form of motivational impairment, over-sensitivity to perceived failure, described previously in depressed adults, would impact healthy children's performance on neuropsychological tasks as a function of individual differences in negative affectivity. Healthy children completed the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test and Automated Battery (CANTAB) as part of a large-scale study of cognitive development. The tendency to respond to perceived failure with subsequent item failure was calculated for each child on the basis of his/her performance on the CANTAB's ID/ED set-shifting task, during which trial-by-trial feedback is provided. Children were divided into those with low versus high tendencies to react to failure with subsequent item failure. One year later, their parents completed child temperament ratings, using Rothbart's Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ) as part of another study where cortisol was also measured. Children with increased tendencies to exhibit heightened responses to failure on the ID/ED set-shifting task were rated by their parents as higher in sadness and slightly higher in overall Negative Affectivity. These children performed worse on several CANTAB subtests, including memory span, pattern recognition memory, and set shifting. Relations to daily cortisol rhythms were examined but did not yield strong effects. Abnormally sensitive responses to negative feedback have been discussed as a trait marker of affective disorder. These findings suggest that this motivational style might impact children as a function of temperamental characteristics that might lead to vulnerability to later internalizing psychopathology. Findings are discussed in relation to neurobehavioral models of feedback processing in affective disorder and developmental psychopathology.
Keywords: temperament, depression, cognition, negative affect, children