The structure of past and future lives in depression

J Abnorm Psychol. 2011 Feb;120(1):1-15. doi: 10.1037/a0020797.


This study assessed the organization of past autobiographical knowledge in individuals with either current major depressive disorder (MDD), MDD in remission, or no history of MDD (the control group). Participants generated personal lists of "life chapters," dividing both their past and potential future into subjectively meaningful episodes or themes (e.g., "married life"). They were then given a list of potentially chapter-descriptive positive or negative attributes and sorted them according to the different chapters. Results revealed that, relative to the control group, MDD participants selected more negative attributes overall, showed greater redundancy for negative attributes (i.e., using the same ones repeatedly across chapters) and reduced redundancy for positive attributes, and exhibited greater compartmentalization (i.e., the negative and positive attributes were clustered separately across different chapters). A similar pattern emerged for the remitted MDD group relative to controls, with the exception of negative redundancy, which was not elevated. For future chapters, there were no group differences. Finally, a greater number of past depressive episodes was associated with increasingly reduced positive redundancy. These data reveal a "depressogenic" structuring of past (but not future) knowledge in MDD that is also evident in a remitted MDD group, with the exception of negative redundancy, which appears to be a marker of the acute state. These findings shed light on important aspects of the organization of past knowledge that are likely to be linked to maladaptive processing biases in those with a depression history.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales