Reduced Reward Responsiveness Predicts Change in Depressive Symptoms in Anxious Children and Adolescents Following Treatment

Objectives: Reduced reward responsiveness, as measured by the event-related potential (ERP) component, the reward positivity (RewP), has been shown to play a role in the development of internalizing disorders, but implications for treatment remain unclear. In adult patients with anxiety and/or depression, reduced RewP has emerged as a predictor of greater change in symptoms following cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) treatment. The objectives of this preliminary study were to extend these findings to children and adolescents with anxiety disorders by evaluating RewP to reward as a predictor of change in anxiety severity or depressive symptoms following treatment with CBT or SSRI and to explore whether RewP differentially predicts response to one type of treatment.

Methods: Patients (7-19 years old) with social and/or generalized anxiety disorder (Nā€‰=ā€‰27) completed baseline measures of anxiety severity and depressive symptoms, as well as an ERP monetary reward anticipation and feedback task. RewP was measured in response to reward and breaking even feedback. Patients were then randomly assigned to CBT or SSRI treatment, and completed measures of anxiety and depressive symptom severity at the last treatment session.

Results: Reduced reward responsiveness, as measured by RewP to rewards, predicted greater change in depressive symptoms following treatment, adjusting for baseline symptoms, age, and RewP to breaking even. RewP was not a significant predictor of change in anxiety symptoms. Although preliminary, exploratory analyses suggested that among anxious youth, RewP specifically predicted change in depressive symptoms following CBT, rather than SSRI.

Conclusion: Results provide preliminary support for the utility of ERP measures of reward responsiveness in predicting treatment response in youth. With further research and standardization, ERP assessments could potentially be implemented in clinical settings to inform prognosis and treatment planning for youth with internalizing disorders.