Individuals who suffer with depression often find themselves stuck on the same negative thoughts. This process of rumination impairs recovery. Even people who are no longer depressed can find themselves unable to snap out of a low mood by recalling previously happy times due to rumination. “Studies from the memory field have shown that individuals frequently retrieve positive autobiographical memories as a way to repair negative mood,” said Aliza Werner-Seidler of the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. But, dysphoric, or depressed individuals, do not benefit from positive memory retrieval. She said, “This suggests that the benefit associated with the recall of positive memories to improve mood depends on depressive status because for currently depressed individuals, the recall of happy memories is to the detriment of their mood; for recovered depressed individuals, positive memory recall does not change mood.” She added, “From this perspective then, happy memory recall would likely draw attention to the discrepancy between an individual’s current circumstances (i.e., low mood) to past, happier times. If we assume that, in general, individuals aim to avoid depressed mood and experience positive mood, the recall of a positive memory would emphasize the failure in achieving this goal and in turn prompt a ruminative response.”
Werner-Seidler conducted a mood induction experiment on 68 currently and previously depressed individuals, and asked them to recall a happy memory and to process it either abstractly, through rumination or other techniques, or concretely, through visualization or imagery. “Abstract processing of positive memories was shown to be maladaptive in that it did not facilitate recovery from low mood,” said Werner-Seidler. “Conversely, concrete processing enabled depressed and recovered depressed individuals to derive emotional benefit from the recall of happy memories—an effect observed among healthy volunteers in previous work.” She added, “The promising outcomes from interventions that seek to reduce rumination and/or train concreteness underscores the involvement of processing mode in depressive disorders as well the importance of ongoing research in this area.”
Werner-Seidler, A., & Moulds, M. L. (2011, October 24). Mood Repair and Processing Mode in Depression. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025984
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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