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Anhedonia, an impairment in the motivation for or experience of pleasure, is a well-established transdiagnostic harbinger and core symptom of mental illness. Given increasing recognition of early life origins of mental illness, we posit that anhedonia should, and could, be recognized earlier if appropriate tools were available. However, reliable diagnostic instruments prior to childhood do not currently exist.


We developed an assessment instrument for anhedonia/reward processing in infancy, the Infant Hedonic/Anhedonic Processing Index (HAPI-Infant). Exploratory factor and psychometric analyses were conducted using data from 6- and 12-month-old infants from two cohorts (N = 188, N = 212). Then, associations were assessed between infant anhedonia and adolescent self-report of depressive symptoms.


The HAPI-Infant (47-items), exhibited excellent psychometric properties. Higher anhedonia scores at 6 (r = 0.23, p < .01) and 12 months (r = 0.19, p < .05) predicted elevated adolescent depressive symptoms, and these associations were stronger than for established infant risk indicators such as negative affectivity. Subsequent analyses supported the validity of short (27-item) and very short (12-item) versions of this measure.


The primary limitations of this study are that the HAPI-Infant awaits additional tests of generalizability and of its ability to predict clinical diagnosis of depression.


The HAPI-Infant is a novel, psychometrically strong diagnostic tool suitable for recognizing anhedonia during the first year of life with strong predictive value for later depressive symptoms. In view of the emerging recognition of increasing prevalence of affective disorders in children and adolescents, the importance of the HAPI-Infant in diagnosing anhedonia is encouraging. Early recognition of anhedonia could target high-risk individuals for intervention and perhaps prevention of mental health disorders.


This article was originally published in Journal of Affective Disorders, volume 352, in 2024.

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