Emotional Well-Being in Children with Cognitive Disengagement Syndrome

Nicole Delano, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Pasadena, United States
Anne Nolty, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Pasadena, United States


Cognitive disengagement syndrome (CDS), formerly known as sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT), is predominantly characterized by frequent daydreaming, daytime sleepiness, mental fog, and lethargic behaviors. As such, children and adolescents with SCT have been described as less hostile and less likely to engage in disruptive behavior than their peers without SCT. It has also been well established that the emotional profile of SCT is similar to that of the inattentive presentation of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD-I) in that individuals with these disorders are predominately marked by internalizing symptoms.  We investigated whether children and adolescents with CDS report differences in emotional well-being compared to controls, and determined whether individuals with high levels of CDS differ in their self-report of internalizing and externalizing symptoms of emotional well-being compared to those with low levels of SCT.

Participants and Methods:

Forty-nine children from 5 to 14 years of age (M = 9.2, SD = 2.4) were grouped into those with high levels of CDS symptoms (n = 25) versus those with low levels of CDS (n = 24), based on parent or teacher responses to several items on Achenbach questionnaires. Their self-report responses on the Beck Youth Inventories, Second Edition (BYI-2) were used to measure depression, anxiety, anger, disruptive behavior, and self-concept. Symptoms of ADHD-I were measured using the Conners-3 parent or teacher questionnaires.


Contrary to our hypothesis, we did not observe significant differences in clinical ratings of emotional well-being (depression, anxiety, anger, disruptive behavior, and self-concept) between individuals with CDS compared to the normative mean of 50. Moreover, children with higher levels of CDS did not have worse internalizing symptoms of emotional well-being (depression, anxiety), or levels of anger than children with low levels of CDS.  However, children and adolescents with high levels of CDS differed in their experiences of disruptive behavior. Those with low levels of SCT (M = 43.4, SD = 5.2) reported less disruptive behavior than their counterparts with high levels of CDS (M = 49.4, SD = 11.3), F(1, 46) = 7.95, p < .01.


Our findings contrasted with existing literature stating that adolescents with SCT experience higher levels of anxiety and depression. Given the level of face validity of the BYI-2, these findings suggest that children with CDS either lack insight into their own emotional functioning, or do not choose to report the emotional symptoms that they experience. Further, there were no differences between scores of depression, anxiety, anger, or self-esteem for the high CDS group versus the low CDS group.  Interestingly, the low CDS group reported fewer symptoms of disruptive behavior than did the high CDS group. CDS is uniquely associated with shyness and punishment anxiety, even beyond symptoms of ADHD-I. Therefore, these traits of CDS may play a protective role in the socio-emotional functioning of this population.

Category: Autism Spectrum Disorders/Developmental Disorders/Intellectual Disability

Keyword 1: emotional processes
Keyword 2: cognitive functioning
Keyword 3: child development disorders