Implicit memory and depression: preserved conceptual priming in subclinical depression

Cogn Emot. 2011 Jun;25(4):730-9. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2010.500479.


Depression impairs explicit memory but research on implicit memory is equivocal. Initial studies indicated preserved implicit memory, implying a depressive deficit in intentional but not unintentional forms of memory. Subsequent research indicated that conceptual priming is reduced in depression, implying a deficit in conceptual memory processes be they implicit or explicit. However, the findings with conceptual priming may be compromised by explicit contamination. The present study compared subclinically depressed and non-depressed participants on matched conceptual tests of explicit memory (category-cued recall) and implicit memory (category production). The implicit test was followed by a post-test questionnaire used to categorise participants as test-aware or test-unaware. On the explicit test, the subclinically depressed participants recalled less than the non-depressed participants. The results on the implicit test depended on test-awareness. Among test-unaware participants, conceptual priming was equivalent across the two groups, whereas for the test-aware, non-depressed participants produced significantly more priming than the subclinically depressed. This indicates that when explicit contamination is controlled, depression does not impair conceptual priming. The depressive dissociation between implicit and explicit memory is better accounted for by the difference between intentional and unintentional forms of memory rather than by the difference between conceptual and perceptual memory processes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness*
  • Concept Formation*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult