Book Review | Cognitive Vulnerability and Stress in Children and Adolescents

Cognitive Vulnerability and Stress in Children and Adolescents, by Randy P. Auerbach and Benjamin L. Hankin. Guilford Press, 2013. $11.01 E-book, ISBN 9781462511884.

Research in psychiatry and mood disorders continues to deepen with the publication of Randy Auerbach and Benjamin Hankin’s Cognitive Vulnerability and Stress in Children and Adolescents. Dr. Hankin is a professor at Denver University in the department of psychology. Other areas of his expertise include developmental pathology and depression. He has published eight books before Cognitive Vulnerability on related topics, including Co-Rumination and Stress Generation (2010). He is also a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Dr. Auerbach is an assistant professor at Harvard where he directs the research of child and adolescent psychiatry. His studies aim to discover underlying symptoms of mood disorders and create prevention programs for these disorders. His research has earned him the Smadar Levin Award from the Society for Research on Psychopathology. With their combined knowledge of developmental psychology and biological precursors, the authors have contributed excellent research to the growing study of mood disorders.

Intended for an audience with a basic understanding of psychology, Cognitive Vulnerability analyzes and researches the underlying factors contributing to depression, anxiety, risky behavior, and substance abuse. This research is conducted through exploring social, biological, and environmental factors in a psychological framework of study. The seven chapters each address a major aggravator of the spectrum of mood disorders mentioned, and each is structured in a parallel format. Every chapter opens with a precursor and its associated disorder; precursors like risky behavior or excessive reassurance seeking are explained based on past studies, which the authors expand on in their research. Cognitive Vulnerability is one of the first books in its field to place risk factors that were once separated with different disorders together as an interactive model. Negative effect was a symptom only analyzed with depression, for example, but Auerbach and Hankin proved it also associated with anxiety after adding it to a model that included other pathologies. Any new found results like this one are written alongside referencing graphs. The authors are conscientious about adding a “discussion” that places these statistics into context. This strategy makes processing information and conclusions easy for the average reader.

The genre on cognitive vulnerability, or dysfunctional thought processing, has become a popular focus of study in conquering the causes of depression. However, a majority of similar scholarly books tend to focus on only depression and its underlying symptoms. The work that comes closest in its research to Auerbach and Hankin’s book is Vulnerability to Depression (2011). The authors, Rick Ingram and Ruth Atchley, drawing heavily on neuroscience, use a type of multi modal model like the one developed by Auerbach and Hankin. Here, separate symptoms of depression such as cognition and biological responses were recorded together in determining how their interplay led to other negative behaviors. These authors, however, restrict their focus to depression, leaving room for Auerbach and Hankin’s more far-reaching study.

Auerbach and Hankin’s secondary focus on anxiety is a major strength to their developmental study of depression. The two researchers draw the important conclusion that anxiety is one of the most crucial precursors to depression. Anxiety, in itself, has its own psychopathology unique to depression. In order to trace the full path to depression, the authors suggest, it is helpful to first follow the path that leads to the precursor of anxiety. This strategy also opens up opportunity to discuss symptoms that derive from anxiety and would not otherwise be mentioned if only focusing on depression. For example, risky behavior is not only a pre-determinant to anxiety, but to other disorders. Frequent bouts of risky behavior can also lead to depression, a factor that is too often missed in other studies of depression. Auerbach and Hankin are therefore right in choosing topics which help predict the causes of these mood disorders, such as maternal neglect or improper biological responses to stress.

As this book discusses major influences on depression, the writing structure alternates amongst three different disorders of depression, anxiety and cognitive vulnerability in a way that occasionally confuses the reader. However, Auerbach and Hankin’s aim was not to construct a linear narration, but an organized compilation of the most pressing theories on developing depression and associated mood disorders. This text is certainly not a self-help book but one that offers the most recent research and new interactive models. All mood disorders are mentioned in order to uncover all connections among them and symptoms they may present. If the goal is to understand the entire web of factors that constitute depression, then this book gives one of the broadest outlooks. Not only does it relate to neural responses to the body in experiencing a disorder, but what environments could formulate it, beginning in infancy. This book will prove most helpful in thoroughly investigating contributors to mood disorders for the purpose of constructing preventions and cures.

Alix Poliszuk, North Hennepin Community College

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