Sadness is one of the symptoms of depression. Persistent low mood that lasts for more than 2 weeks is one of the markers used in the clinical diagnosis of depression. This type of sadness impairs motivation and affects many other areas of a person’s life, including self-esteem, productivity, eating, and sleeping patterns and overall well-being. People who experience these symptoms often have challenges maintaining relationships, both personal and professional, and are at increased risk for negative coping strategies such as substance misuse and even suicide. Although there is much research on the many facets of depression, few studies have explored the role of sadness alone. Peter C. Clasen of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin sought to determine if a predisposition to sadness would affect symptoms of negative affect and low mood in individuals with and without major depression (MDD).
Clasen recently led a study involving 48 individuals with MDD and 224 individuals with no history of depression. He measured the attentional bias of the participants by exposing them to varying facial expressions. Clasen gauged how quickly the participants fell into sad states and how long it took them to recover. He found that the participants with an attentional bias toward negative cues became sad sooner than those with no bias. This was true for both the MDD group and the control group. Additionally, Clasen found that the participants with the negative bias were slower to recover than those without. The participants with negative bias and MDD took the longest to recover from the negative mood cues. The results of this study suggest that the participants with high levels of attentional bias toward fear-stimulating cues are at increased for episodes of sadness that could exacerbate symptoms of depression. “At the same time, these findings suggest that the adverse effects of negative attentional biases on mood recovery are not limited to MDD,” added Clasen. In fact, Clasen believes that the results of this study demonstrate a vulnerability for other psychological problems, such as anxiety or posttraumatic stress, for individuals who are slow to recover from a negative mood induction due to attentional bias.
Clasen, P. C., Wells, T. T., Ellis, A. J., Beevers, C. G. (2012). Attentional biases and the persistence of sad mood in major depressive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029211
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