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    Depressed Individuals Maintain Focus on Negatives Even After Recovery, Study Finds



    Summary: Depressed Individuals Maintain Focus on Negatives Even After Recovery, a study finds. In contrast to people who have never suffered a major depressive episode, people who have recovered from one typically spend more time processing negative information and less time processing positive information, which increases the likelihood of a recurrence.

    Source: American Psychological Association

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    Lead author Alainna Wen, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “Our research indicates that individuals with a previous history of depression dedicate a significant amount of time to analyzing negative stimuli, such as expressions of sadness, in comparison to positive stimuli like displays of happiness. This contrast is more pronounced when compared to emotionally healthy individuals with no such history. This divergence in processing suggests a heightened susceptibility to potential future depressive episodes. This susceptibility arises from the inherent nature of depression, which involves an abundance of negative thoughts and emotions, coupled with a scarcity of positive ones.”

    The Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science published the research.

    One of the most prevalent mental illnesses in the US is major depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 21 million American people (8.4% of the country’s population) reported having had serious depression at least once in 2020. Major depression can hinder or limit a person’s capacity to do important life tasks. It is characterized by a minimum of two weeks of a gloomy mood or a lack of interest in or enjoyment from daily activities.

    Wen reports that relapse rates for major depressive disorder are still high despite the availability of effective therapies for the condition. After their first major depressive episode, over 50% of people will go on to have several episodes, and they frequently relapse within two years of getting better. To enhance treatment and prevent recurrence, researchers need to gain a deeper understanding of the risk factors associated with major depressive illness.

    Research on Depressed Individuals

    Researchers performed a meta-analysis of 44 trials, comprising 2285 healthy controls and 2081 patients with a history of severe depressed disorder, for this publication. Every study looked at how quickly people responded to neutral, positive, or negative stimuli. In several instances, participants were requested to press a separate button to represent a happy, sad, or neutral human face. In other cases, participants responded to favorable, unfavorable, or neutral words.

    Regardless of whether the stimuli were pleasant, neutral, or negative, healthy participants reacted to both emotional and non-emotional stimuli faster than those with a history of depression. However, compared to controls, individuals who had previously experienced major depressive disorder took longer to process unpleasant emotional cues. When compared to individuals in major depression remission, healthy controls showed a significant difference in the amount of time they spent processing positive versus negative emotional stimuli; however, this difference did not show up when comparing the amount of time spent processing positive versus neutral or negative versus neutral stimuli.


    According to Wen, the results generally imply that people with recurrent major depressive disorder not only exhibit a stronger bias for focusing on negative information over positive or neutral information, but they also appear to be less able to manage the information they absorb than people in good health.

    “The results of this study have implications for depressed people’s treatment,” Wen stated. Merely centering on diminishing the analysis of negative data might not be adequate to avert a relapse of depression. Alternatively, approaches that enhance the processing of positive information could prove advantageous for patients.”

    Source: American Psychological Association

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