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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Jun;54(6):925-39.

Context-dependent automatic processing in depression: accessibility of negative constructs with regard to self but not others.

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Department of Psychology, New York University, New York 10003.


The existence of automatic negative self-referential thought in depression was examined by using the concurrent memory load paradigm. Depressed and nondepressed subjects judged each of a series of depressed- and nondepressed-content adjectives as to its descriptiveness of the self or of the average other person. While making each judgment, some subjects held six digits in working memory, whereas the remaining subjects had no concurrent memory load. We found that the memory load manipulation resulted in a reliably smaller increase in depressed subjects' self-referential judgment latencies for depressed content than for nondepressed content, with the reverse being true of nondepressed subjects. For all subjects, however, the load effect on other-referential judgment latencies was smaller for nondepressed-content adjectives than for depressed-content adjectives. The results suggest an automatic, unintentional component in the depressed person's use of negative social constructs in self-perception but not in other-perception, indicating a context-dependent form of automatic processing.

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