Depressive Thoughts Can Interfere With Memory

the Psychiatry Advisor take:

In people with depression, depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time and may reduce the amount of information that can be held in their memory, according to research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

A study from researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas is unique in demonstrating that negative thoughts can persist to the point where they hinder a depressed person’s ability to hold their train of thought.

For the study, researchers recruited 75 university undergraduate students; 30 with depressive symptoms and 45 without. The participants were asked to respond either to a neutral statement, or to a statement featuring depressive thoughts, such as “I am sad,” or “people don’t like me.” They were then asked to recall a string of numbers.

Participants with depressive symptoms who were given a negative thought first remembered 31% fewer number strings compared with those who were given the number string first and compared with participants without depressive symptoms.

"We all have a fixed amount of information we can hold in memory at one time," explained Nick Hubbard, a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth. “The fact that depressive thoughts do not seem to go away once they enter memory certainly explains why depressed individuals have difficulty concentrating or remembering things in their daily lives.” He noted that this also might explain the lack of positive thoughts in people with depression; there isn’t enough space for them.

The researchers suggest that this greater dedication of memory resources to depressive thoughts might be the key to understanding how depression develops and continues throughout a person’s lifetime.

Depressive Thoughts Can Interfere With Memory
Negative thoughts last longer in people with depression and interfere with their memory.

Intrusive, enduring, depressive thoughts are an ever-present part of daily life for people with depression. A first of its kind study from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published earlier this year in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this extended duration may reduce the amount of information that these individuals can hold in their memory. The findings have far-reaching implications for understanding how depression damages memory, as well as how depression develops and persists over the course of an individual's lifetime.

For the study, researchers recruited 75 university undergraduate students; thirty students were classified as having depressive symptoms and 45 participants were categorized as not exhibiting depressive symptoms. All participants were asked to respond to a sentence featuring depressive thoughts, such as "I am sad," or "People don't like me," or neutral information. They were then asked to remember a string of numbers.

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