Formerly Depressed Individuals Persist in Directing Their Attention Towards Negative Aspects

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Individuals who have successfully overcome a significant episode of depression exhibit a tendency to allocate more attention and cognitive resources towards negative information processing, while dedicating less time to processing positive information. This disparity in information processing increases their vulnerability to a potential relapse when compared to those who have not experienced a major depressive episode.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, individuals with a history of depression exhibit a greater inclination towards negative thinking and mood compared to healthy individuals. This predisposition could potentially increase the likelihood of another depressive episode.

The study, conducted by Alainna Wen, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that people who have previously experienced depression spend more time processing negative information, such as sad faces, than positive information, such as happy faces. This disparity is more pronounced in individuals with a history of depression compared to those without.

Major depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States. In 2020 alone, approximately 21 million U.S. adults reported experiencing major depression. Major depression is characterized by a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for at least two weeks. It can significantly impair an individual’s ability to carry out major life activities.

Despite the availability of well-established treatments for depression, relapse rates for major depressive disorder remain high. Over 50% of individuals who experience a first-time major depressive episode will go on to experience subsequent episodes within two years of recovery. Therefore, it is crucial to gain further insights into the risk factors associated with major depressive disorder in order to enhance treatment and prevention strategies.

The study was published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.


American Psychological Association. (2023, August 21). Formerly depressed patients continue to focus on negative. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 29, 2023 from

Formerly depressed patients continue to focus on negative. (2023, August 21).

Wen, A., Fischer, E. R., Watson, D., & Yoon, K. L. (2023). Biased cognitive control of emotional information in remitted depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.