Are Some People More Vulnerable to Sad Moods Than Others?

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

Related articles:
Hidden Depression Among Us
When Someone You Love Has Repeated, Intense Episodes of Depression
The Birth of Anxiety

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  • blake


    August 14th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    In essence, wouldn’t you say that that pervasive sense of sadness is in fact so much like depression that it is difficult to tell the two apart?

  • Belle R

    Belle R

    August 14th, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    Not sure though if this is something that someone would be predisposed to or if it would be learned via their environment



    August 14th, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    It surprises me to see people who can remain sad for such long periods.I am the kind of person who is sad about something now but would be smiling a few minutes later.I just cannot stay sad for too long.It just happens.

    And when I see some others drown themselves in sorrow I ask myself if this is what they want their life to be.Because no matter what the loss is,its not more important than the life you see in the path ahead of you,is it?

  • clinton


    August 15th, 2012 at 4:25 AM

    I just can’t imagine going through life and never knowing the feeling of complete happiness because I have been tainted by sadness for so long. Even if you are not depressed, this kind of lasting sadness cannot be healthy for anyone to have to endure. The human heart should not have to be set up to accept and cope with this all of the time. Environment and stress could play a huge role in someone feeling this way, but I would be willing to bet that for a lot of people this is something with which they have been afflicted for a very long time and that they have had to learn to deal with. I wish this kind of sadness on no one and hope that these are people who can somehow find peace and hope after living with such sadness for so long.

  • D.P


    August 15th, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Are they more vulnerable to being sad or do they just train themselves to become that?Some people have this tendency to feel bad about themselves more than others and they often feel like they deserve everybody else’s attention because they have a problem.Well,everybody has problems.You have to learn to deal with them and not just sit in the corner sobbing…!

  • grant s

    grant s

    August 16th, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    Once upon a time, a long time ago, I made the mistake of marrying my college sweetheart. I feel in love with her in part because I was attracted to that dark moody persona that made her seem so mysterious. I failed to see though that even once we got married she could not become the happy housewife and mother. She was always going to brood and be sad, and after a while I got so tired of her bringing that somber mood to our home. I just had to get out of that for my sanity. I felt that it was not healthy for either of us anymore. We have since the divorce remained friends, and I think she has found a dark brooding type more to her liking while I have found someone who actually likes to have a laugh and a smile every day, and I think that both of us are happier now that we are with people who are more like the people that we really are and were meant to be.

  • Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

    Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

    August 21st, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    It’s true that about 30% of our temperament is hard wired, but that endows “nurture” factors (early learning experiences, object relations, the environment) with a lot of influence. We get better at everything we practice, and we are always practicing something @mindsetdoc

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