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PWP Episode 10: Abnormal Psychology- Cognitive Explanations for Depression

Hello everyone, I hope that you had a good weekend.

Today's episode of The Psychology World Podcast will be on the cognitive explanations for depression continuing with our abnormal psychology theme.

Show notes:

Moving to our next point of interest is how can our mental processes affect our chance of developing MDD.

Now the main theory of depression used for this type of explanation is: Beck (1967) and the theory states that cognition (mental processes) is the main reason behind depression and focuses on the impact that a change in automatic thoughts can have on behaviour. The theory focuses on:

· The cognitive triad- negative beliefs about the self, the world and the future. These influence the automatic thoughts to be pessimistic.

· Negative schema- the negative beliefs about themselves become generalize and people start to think negatively about everything that happens to them.

· Faulty thinking patterns- people think and make illogical conclusions because of how they process information is biased.

Personally, I do quite like the theory because if you know someone with depression as I did then you can see some of this theory out to light.

In addition, I think that it’s a reasonably easy theory to follow.

But let’s put this theory into context, according to this theory a depression is caused by:

(I know some the examples are poor)

· The cognitive triad- this can be demonstrated when a depressed person says things. Like: “I’m useless,” or “Oh the world is falling apart so what’s the point of living?”

· Negative schemas- as demonstrated by this: “Oh I failed in art so I’m never to pass any subjects, go to university and I’m just going to be a failure in life,”

· Faulty thinking patterns- this could be shown in a setting when researching a holiday to the most beautiful place ever and there was a 0.5% chance of a terror attack. “Oh no, I can’t go there I’m going to die,”

While that last example wasn’t the best. It shows how illogical conclusions can be made because of a bias towards the negative.

Supporting studies:

This first study shows how having a negative thinking style can affect depression.

Alloy, Abramson and Francis (1999):

Quasi-experiment and longitudinal study for 5.5 years with a questionnaire and structured interviews.

Freshmen were given a questionnaire to determine their cognitive style and they were split into two groups based on the results.

High risk; the negative cognitive style; believed that negative life events were cataphoric and the results meant that they were flawed and worthless.

During the first 2.5 years, high-risk people were more likely to develop symptoms of major depression. (17% versus 1%)

High-risk people were more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behaviour (28% versus 13%)

In conclusion, negative cognitive style can lead to the development of major depression.

Critically thinking:

This study was a longitudinal study, so this allowed the researchers to show the effects of a negative thinking style over time.

Yet it was a quasi-experiment without a clear independent variable and the dependent variable, so it can’t be said if the study has strong internal validity; does the study measure what it intended to; as it wasn’t clear what the study was measuring.

Caseras et al (2007):

Quasi-experiment with eye tracking technology

Using the Beck Depression Inventory, the subjects were assessed for depressive symptoms and then split into two groups. Depressed and non-depressed.

Then the subjects were shown 32 pictures paired with a positive, neutral and negative stimuli and each picture was shown for 3 seconds.

Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers measured what stimuli the subject first focused on and how long they focused on it before they switched to another stimulus.

Results showed that depressed people have an attention bias for the negative stimuli because once they looked at the negative stimuli, they found it hard to move onto another stimulus.

Critically thinking:

The study used a large sample bias so the findings can be applied to large groups of people as we know that this trend of behaviour is shown by a number of people.

However, this is a reductionist way of thinking. A way of thinking that tries to find a single cause for depression without thinking of other factors and more holistic research that considers biological, cognitive and social factors of depression needs to be done.


Beck (1967) theory focuses on the cognitive triad, negative schemas and faulty thinking processes.

Alloy, Abramson and Francis (1999) shows how a negative thinking style can lead to depression.

Caseras et al (2007) found that depressed people have an attention bias to negative stimuli.

I hope that you've enjoyed today's episode and if you want to learn more about Abnormal Psychology then please check out my book Abnormal Psychology and sign up for my newsletter to receive your FREE book.

Have a great day!

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