Professor, Department of Psychology
Experimental studies investigating the interaction of cognition and emotion have a long tradition in depression research. Most of this research, however, has narrowly focused on demonstrating the existence of biased processing. Very few studies have examined how attentional biases towards negative material and mood-congruent interpretation and memory are related to each other and, more importantly, are related to the hallmark feature of depression which is sustained negative affect. The critical question is why, in response to the experience of negative events and negative mood, some people initiate a selfdefeating cycle of increasingly negative thinking and intensifying negative affect. If changes in mood are associated with the activation of mood-congruent material in working memory, the ability to control the contents of working memory might play an important role in recovery from negative mood. A closer investigation of individual differences in cognitive control may therefore help us to better understand rumination and other difficulties in mood and emotion regulation in depression. Specifically, it is proposed that depressed people experience difficulty disengaging from, and inhibiting elaborative processing of, negative material. Thus, they cannot prevent negative material from entering and remaining in working memory, leading them to rehearse, or to ruminate about, negative content, which leads to better long-term memory for negative material and serves to exacerbate negative affect. The presentation will also briefly address implications for intervention.