Concrete Memory Processing May Improve Depressed Mood

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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • audra


    October 27th, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    depression seems to breed negativity, yes?
    have never met too many upbeat depressed people

  • Holly


    October 28th, 2011 at 4:23 AM

    Would be hard for a set of happy memories to overcome the feeelings of being depressed.

  • Justus


    October 28th, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    In The Raphaelite Work, positive memories are used as resources in a similar way. The trick is catching yourself at a moment of being open to re-experiencing all the senses involved with the old memory, and often its way easier with another person facilitating, as we are bound to fall off track into negativity from time to time.

  • shelton.d


    October 28th, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    depressed individuals or even recovered ones,we humans have the tendency to pay more attention to n give importance to negative things in general.most of us are like that,including me.n the few if us who can pay attention to the right things are the ones that can be happy with whatever they have.

    we should all aim to be like that.but until that happens,this problem will continue n there isn’t a lot we can do about it!!

  • Maranda


    October 29th, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    I for one find it a little demeaning that there are those who think that just thinking about something happy is what is going to lift someone out of their depression. This is a sickness people! I mean, a happy memory won’t cure cancer, so why would we think that it could also help depression? Pretty lame.

  • F.T


    October 29th, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    How can a depressed person cheer himself up by thinking of happy moments?Just how!
    If I’m depressed I don’t think any happy moment can cheer me up.In fact,it would be hard for me to even think of a happy moment while I’m depressed, let alone being helped by it.

  • Koley


    October 30th, 2011 at 5:38 AM

    When I think of something happy when I am feeling sad, I am just like this article points out. I start looking at how far away I am from thse happy times and wonder how I ever got to such a low point. It does not make me happy at all, only wistful for the past and those happy times but with no real plan for how to get my life back to that.

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