Unseen side effects: Past depression can make you see the world differently

New research reveals that individuals who have recovered from a major depressive episode process negative information for longer than positive data compared to people with no history of depression. This cognitive bias may increase their risk of relapse. The study included a meta-analysis of many different studies, concluding that focusing solely on reducing negative information processing may not effectively prevent relapse. Instead, strategies that increase active information processing may be beneficial.

According to one study, focusing on positive aspects may be just as important as reducing negative factors in preventing relapse.

People who have overcome a major depressive episode spend more time on negative information and less time on positive aspects than people who have never faced the episode. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, this pattern may put them at risk for relapse.

Lead author Alainna said: “Our findings show that people with a history of depression spend more time processing negative information, such as sad faces, than positive information, e.g. like happy faces and this difference is larger than in healthy people with no history. Wen, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Anxiety and Depression Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Because more negative thoughts and moods and less positive thoughts and moods are characteristic of depression, this may mean that these people are at higher risk of having another depressive episode .

The study was published in the journalJournal of psychology and clinical science.

Prevalence and impact of major depression

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, approximately 21 million adults in the United States reported at least some incidence of major depression (8.4% of the US population). Defined as a period of at least two weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, severe depression can hinder or limit the ability to carry out important activities in life. a person’s life.

According to Wen, although treatments for depression are well established, relapse rates for major depressive disorder remain high. More than 50% of people with major depression for the first time will experience subsequent episodes, often recurring within two years of recovery. Therefore, greater insight into the risk factors associated with major depressive disorder is needed to improve treatment and prevent relapse.

Research methods and results

For this article, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 44 studies with 2,081 participants with a history of major depressive disorder and 2,285 healthy controls. All studies tested participants’ reaction times to negative, positive, or neutral stimuli. In some cases, participants were shown happy, sad, or neutral faces and asked to press a different button for each face. In others, participants responded to positive, negative, or neutral words.

Healthy participants in one group were more responsive to emotional and non-emotional stimuli than participants with a history of depression, regardless of whether the stimuli were positive, neutral, or negative. . However, participants with previous major depressive disorder spent more time processing negative emotional stimuli relative to positive stimuli compared to the control group. Although healthy controls showed significant differences in the amount of time they spent processing positive and negative emotional stimuli compared with people in remission from major depression, the difference That difference did not emerge when comparing the time spent processing negative versus neutral or positive versus neutral stimuli.

Overall, the findings suggest that people with recurrent major depressive disorder are not only less able to control the information they process than healthy individuals, but also show a tendency to focus on negative information. than positive or neutral, according to Wen.

Wen said the current findings have implications for the treatment of depression. Focusing solely on reducing negative information processing may not be enough to prevent depressive relapse. Instead, patients may also benefit from strategies aimed at enhancing active information processing.

Reference: Biased cognitive control of emotional information in remitted depression: A meta-analytic review by Alainna Wen, Ethan Ray Fischer, David Watson and K Lira Yoon, 21 August 2023 , Journal of psychology and clinical science.
DOI: 10.1037/abn0000848

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