Clinical characteristics associated with the discrepancy between subjective and objective cognitive impairment in depression

J Affect Disord. 2019 Mar 1:246:763-774. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.12.105. Epub 2018 Dec 27.


Background: Patients with unipolar disorder (UD) commonly experience cognitive dysfunction during symptomatic and remitted phases. However, it is not necessarily the patients with the greatest subjective complaints, who display the largest objectively-measured deficits on neuropsychological tests.

Objective: This report investigated the demographic and clinical factors associated with the discrepancy between subjective and objective measures of cognition in two separate depressed patient populations in Denmark and New Zealand, respectively, using a new methodology.

Methods: Data from 137 depressed patients and 103 healthy controls including neuropsychological test scores, self-reported cognitive difficulties, and ratings of mood were pooled from two studies conducted in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Christchurch, New Zealand, respectively. Cognitive discrepancy scores were calculated using a novel methodology, with positive values indicating disproportionately more subjective than objective difficulties (i.e., "sensitivity") and negative values indicating more objective than subjective impairments (i.e., "stoicism").

Results: In the Danish partially remitted patient sample, greater 'sensitivity' was associated with more subsyndromal depression severity (standardized Beta (std. β )= 0.4, p < 0.01)), illness duration (std. β = 0.4, p < 0.01), and younger age (std. β = 0.6, p < 0.001). This association was replicated in the New Zealand sample of more symptomatic patients (p-values ≤ 0.05).

Limitations: The cross-sectional design hampered causal inferences. We had obtained different measures of objective and subjective cognition from the two studies.

Conclusions: Patients with more depressive symptoms and younger age overreported cognitive impairments across all illness states. The use of an objective cognition screener thus seems particularly relevant for these patients to assess whether subjective complaints are accompanied by measurable cognitive deficits.

Keywords: Cognition; Cognitive dysfunction; Depression; Neuropsychology; Objective; Subjective; Unipolar disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Denmark
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data*
  • New Zealand
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Concept
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Young Adult