Weak Relationship Found Between Depression Severity and Neurocognitive Performance

sad woman on couch
sad woman on couch
Investigators examined the associations between neuropsychological test performance and aspects of symptom severity.

The relationship between standard depression symptoms ratings and neurocognitive deficits is weak, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Participants enrolled in the study included 262 patients with major depressive disorder. Patients were unmedicated and enrolled in various clinical and biological studies at an academic medical center. Criteria for inclusion included a minimum score of 16 on the first items of the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. Patients with psychosis, an IQ below 80, recent drug abuse, and limited English-speaking skills were not included in the study, which compared participants with healthy volunteers (n=140).

Neuropsychological performance was assessed in patients with major depressive disorder and compared with that in healthy volunteers. The results were correlated with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Beck Depression Inventory. A cognitive failures questionnaire was included to address specific questions about cognition.

Patients who were depressed performed worse than healthy controls in neuropsychological testing. Among patients who required a medication washout prior to study assessments, the strongest single relationship was found between Beck Depression Inventory Subjective Depression and Continuous Performance Test performance (r=−0.27, P =.007; 95% CI, −0.44 to −0.08). No other correlations met the researcher’s significance criteria.

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Overall, correlations suggest that there may be a modest relationship between depression severity measures and neurocognitive performance in subgroups of patients with major depressive disorders. Researchers suggest that further research can provide further data on response to treatment, among other factors.

Disclosure: This study was supported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, NARSAD, and National Institute of Mental Health. Please refer to reference for a complete list of authors’ disclosures.


Keilp JG, Madden SP, Gorlyn M, Burke AK, Oquendo MA, Mann JJ. The lack of meaningful association between depression severity measures and neurocognitive performance. J Affect Disord. 2018; 241:164-172.