A Systematic Review of Executive Function and Information Processing Speed in Major Depression Disorder

Brain Sci. 2021 Jan 22;11(2):147. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11020147.


Background: Major depression is a psychiatric disorder characterized neuropsychologically by poor performance in tasks of memory, attention, processing speed, and executive function. The aim of this systematic review was to examine the evidence regarding the neuropsychological profile of people with major depression and to determine which of two explanatory models-the processing speed hypothesis or the cognitive effort hypothesis-has most empirical support.

Methods: We searched three relevant databases and reviewed the reference lists of the articles retrieved. The results obtained with the Trail Making Test and the Stroop Color-Word Test were reviewed for 37 studies published between 1993 and 2020.

Results: The empirical evidence supports both hypotheses: cognitive effort and processing speed, suggesting that depression is not only characterized by psychomotor slowing but also involves a specific deficit in executive function.

Discussion: We discuss potentially relevant variables that should be considered in future research in order to improve knowledge about the neurocognitive profile of depression. The main limitation of this study derives from the considerable heterogeneity of participants with MD, which makes it difficult to compare and integrate the data.

Keywords: cognitive deficits; executive functions; major depressive disorder; neuropsychological profile; psychomotor speed.

Publication types

  • Review