Neurocognitive Profiles in Adolescence Predict Subsequent Anxiety Trajectories During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has created increased stress and anxiety for many; however, some individuals are particularly prone to heightened anxiety. It is unclear if and how prestress neurocognitive factors moderate risk for anxiety during high-stress situations. Enhanced error monitoring and a cognitive control strategy of more instantaneous (reactive) control have both been independently related to anxiety. We examined if a specific neurocognitive profile characterized by heightened error monitoring and a more reactive cognitive control strategy in adolescence predicts young adults' anxiety trajectories across 3 early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: As part of a longitudinal study (N = 291), data were acquired in adolescence (13 years) on error monitoring (n = 124) and cognitive control strategy (n = 119). In young adulthood (18 years), anxiety was assessed three times during the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 162). RESULTS: On average, participants experienced greater anxiety in the first COVID-19 pandemic assessment, then anxiety decreased in the following months. Error monitoring and cognitive control strategy interacted to predict anxiety trajectories, such that among adolescents with an increased reliance on reactive control, error monitoring predicted greater anxiety in the first assessment but greater decreases the following months as stay-at-home orders were lifted and families adapted to the restrictions. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that neurocognitive profiles in adolescence predict young adults' anxiety responses during a highly stressful period, such as the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings have implications for the early identification of individuals at greater risk for anxiety.


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