There is a growing line of research attempting to understand factors related child and adolescent depression. Today, the LA Times covered a new study on preteens, which found that those with the most accurate perceptions of whether classmates liked or disliked them were the least likely to struggle with depression. This was true even for people that accurately perceived less social approval.
Many psychologists have speculated that the smiling child who believes she is the glowing sun in her classmates’ universe will be protected from depression by that belief. They also surmised that the child who holds a negative view of his status among peers is more prone to maladjustment and depression.
This is related to my pet theory of self-esteem, the sociometer theory. It states that the amount of perceived social acceptance or rejection predicts one’s self-esteem level. People that can accurately read the social environment know where they stand and can make adjustments to gain more social acceptance. However, those who inaccurately perceive more social acceptance and less rejection than is actually present may be prone to narcissism, where those who inaccurately perceive less acceptance and more rejection may be prone to chronic low self-esteem and depression. The key for all of this is an accurate perception of the environment, which can be an elusive skill that scientists are also trying to unravel, and misperception can be an ongoing source of psychological distress.