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J Abnorm Psychol. 1989 Feb;98(1):9-13.

Depression versus anxiety: a test of the content-specificity hypothesis.


Beck's cognitive model predicts that depressed and anxious individuals can be differentiated on the basis of their cognitions regarding their self, world, and future. The present experiment used a trait-rating and incidental recall paradigm to test this "content-specificity" hypothesis. Clinically depressed, anxious, and psychiatric control subjects were presented with depression-relevant and anxiety-relevant trait adjectives, and initially judged whether the adjectives were self-descriptive prior to a free-recall task. Depressed subjects judged and recalled more negative depression-relevant stimuli than did the anxious and control subjects, and they were the only group to judge and recall more negative than positive depression-relevant stimuli. The anxious subjects recalled more negative than positive anxiety-relevant adjectives. The depressed subjects, however, also showed evidence of biased processing for anxiety-relevant stimuli. The findings were interpreted as providing support for the content-specificity hypothesis for depression, and minimal support of the hypothesis for anxiety.

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