Cognitive vulnerability to depression and the mood state hypothesis

Ruby Ackermann Engel, University of Pennsylvania


Cognitive theories of depression propose that some people are vulnerable to depression because they possess dysfunctional beliefs and/or a "depressogenic" attributional style. However, empirical evidence has not consistently supported this notion. Miranda and Persons (1988) suggested that this is because the reporting of dysfunctional cognitions among vulnerable individuals is mood-state dependent. Consistent with their "mood-state hypothesis," they found that mood affected the reporting of dysfunctional beliefs, but only for subjects with a prior history of depression (Miranda, Persons, & Byers, 1990). They did not examine the effect of mood on subjects' attributional style. In Study One, previously depressed and never depressed students completed measures of dysfunctional beliefs, attributional style, and current mood in order to test further the tenability of the mood-state hypothesis. Contrary to expectations, there was no between-group difference in the extent to which current mood was related to the endorsement of either dysfunctional beliefs or attributional style. In fact, the magnitude of the correlation between current mood and dysfunctional beliefs was greater among the never depressed than among the previously depressed subjects. Moreover, the correlations between current mood and attributional style were small and nonsignificant among both diagnostic groups. Study Two examined the effect of both natural variations in mood and induced sad and happy moods on the endorsement of dysfunctional attitudes and attributional style in previously depressed and never depressed undergraduate women. Results from the pre-mood-induction measures were generally consistent with the Study One results for both dysfunctional attitudes and attributional style. In addition, following the mood induction procedure, there was again no between-group difference in the effect of mood on dysfunctional attitudes. In contrast, the post-induction attributional style data provided strong support for the mood-state hypothesis. Specifically, among Remitted Depressed subjects only, change in mood was associated with change in attributional style; controlling for pre-induction mood and attributional style, the sadder they were at post-induction, the more negative their attributional style. Possible reasons for the contradictory results obtained and implications of these findings for cognitive theories of depression are discussed.

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Recommended Citation

Engel, Ruby Ackermann, "Cognitive vulnerability to depression and the mood state hypothesis" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9413827.