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J Affect Disord. 2004 Oct 1;82(1):1-8.

Adaptive and maladaptive self-focus in depression.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK. <>



Studies of rumination suggest that self-focused attention is maladaptive and perpetuates depression. Conversely, self-focused attention can be adaptive, facilitating self-knowledge and the development of the alternative functional interpretations of negative thoughts and feelings on which cognitive therapy of depression depends. Increasing evidence suggests there are distinct varieties of self-focus, each with distinct functional properties. This study tested the prediction that in depressed patients brief inductions of analytical versus experiential self-focus would differentially affect overgeneral autobiographical memory, a phenomenon associated with poor clinical course. It was predicted that, relative to analytical self-focus, experiential self-focus would reduce overgeneral memory.


28 depressed patients either thought analytically about, or focused on their momentary experience of, identical symptom-focused induction items from [Cogn. Emotion 7 (1993) 561] rumination task. Participants completed the Autobiographical Memory Test [J. Abnorm. Psychol. 95 (1986) 144] before and after self-focus manipulations.


Experiential self-focus reduced overgeneral memory compared to analytical self-focus. Analytical and experiential self-focus did not differ in their effects on mood.


In the absence of a reference condition, only conclusions concerning the relative effects of analytical and experiential self-focus can be made.


Results (1) support the differentiation of self-focus into distinct modes of self-attention with distinct functional effects in depression; (2) provide further evidence for the modifiability of overgeneral memory; and (3) provide further evidence for the dissociation of overgeneral memory and depressed mood. Clinically, results support the usefulness of training recovered depressed patients in adaptive experiential forms of self-awareness, as in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

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