Stuck in the past: negative bias, explanatory style, temporal order, and evaluative perspectives in life narratives of clinically depressed individuals

Depress Anxiety. 2008;25(11):E121-32. doi: 10.1002/da.20389.


This study attempted to replicate negative bias and depressive explanatory style in depression using life narratives. The two central aspects of narrative, temporal succession and evaluation, were also explored. These aspects were tested for the first time using entire life narratives of 17 depressed inpatients and non-depressed controls matched for sex and educational level. Negative bias and depressive explanatory style were replicated as typical for the depressed group. Life narratives of depressed patients also deviated more from a linear temporal order and compared less frequently the past with the present. Contrary to expectations, the depressed did not differ in the overall frequency of evaluations. However, they used more past than present evaluations and more experience-near evaluations than cognitive evaluations, suggesting that they are more immersed in past experiences. It is concluded that negative bias and depressive explanatory style can be found also in a naturalistic narrative measure, and that depression affects the two major aspects of narrative. It is argued that life narratives, as measures close to everyday clinical practice and as the most encompassing form of self-representation, should complement more experimental procedures in the study of cognitive and communicative processes in psychopathology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Narration*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Perception*