Backgrounds: The present study focuses on the possible link between gender specific nonverbal behaviors and depression in adolescence. For this purpose, age and gender differences in nonverbal behaviors were examined as well as possible differences between clinical depressed adolescents and non-depressed adolescents. Also it was examined whether adult conversation partners respond differently towards clinically depressed adolescents and non-depressed adolescents. Furthermore it was studied if there is a link between the degree of depression and displaying nonverbal behaviors by adolescents and their adult conversation partner. Methods: This study consisted of observations of 13-20 year old female and male adolescents (n=58) and their adult conversation partners. Several non-verbal behaviors were observed: ‘negative behavior’ and ‘positive other-oriented behavior’. ‘Negative behavior’ was defined as behaviour in which ‘display rules’ are violated. ‘Positive other-oriented behavior’ was defined as the degree in which persons are emotionally involved to their partner in conversation. Results: Contrary to expectations, no significant age and gender effects were found on both positive and negative behavior. Only a trend was found that girls displayed more ‘positive other-oriented behavior’ than boys. As expected clinically depressive adolescents showed more ‘negative behavior’ and less ‘positive other-oriented behavior’. No interactions between depression and gender were found. The adult conversation partner didn’t show differences in negative behavior or positive other-oriented behavior during conversation with clinical depressed adolescents as compared to conversations with non-depressed adolescents. As expected, within the group of depressed adolescents there was a link between ‘positive other-oriented behavior’ and current level of depression. No such link was found for ‘negative behavior’. No correlations were found between the adult partner’s behavior and current level of depression of the adolescent. Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that clinically depressed adolescents show more ‘negative behavior’ and less ‘positive other-oriented behavior’ towards their partner in conversation, as predicted by the social skills deficit model. The study also shows that the more depressed an adolescent is, the less ‘positive other-oriented behaviors’ will be displayed. Although these behaviours did not result in less positive behavior in the adult partner in this laboratory condition, it should be examined how peers respond to the more negative nonverbal behavior of depressed adolescents in order to find out the possible consequences for developing relationships
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