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Objectives

Cognitive models of depression emphasize how distorted thoughts and interpretations contribute to low mood. Emotional reasoning is considered to be one such interpretative style. We used an experimental procedure to determine whether elevated levels of emotional reasoning characterize depression.

Methods

Participants who were currently experiencing a major depressive episode (= 27) were compared with those who were non-depressed (= 25 who had never been depressed and = 26 previously but not currently depressed) on an emotional reasoning task.

Results

Although there were some trends for depressed participants to show greater levels of emotional reasoning relative to non-depressed participants, none of these differences attained significance. Interestingly, previously depressed participants engaged in more non-self-referent emotional reasoning than never-depressed participants.

Conclusions

Emotional reasoning does not appear to characterize mild to moderate levels of depression. The lack of significant differences in emotional reasoning between currently depressed and non-depressed participants may have been a consequence of the fact that participants in our currently depressed group were, for the most part, only mildly depressed. Non-self-referent emotional reasoning may nevertheless be a risk factor for subsequent depressive episodes, or else serve as a ‘cognitive scar’ from previous episodes.

Practitioner points

Clinical Implications
  • In contrast with the predictions of cognitive models of depression, emotional reasoning tendencies may not be especially prominent in currently depressed individuals.
  • Depressed individuals vary greatly in the degree to which they engage in emotional reasoning.
  • Individuals with remitted depression may show elevated of levels non-self-referent emotional reasoning compared with those who have never had a depressive episode, that is, rely on their emotions when forming interpretations about situations.
Limitations
  • Our findings require replication using alternative indices of emotional reasoning.
  • Our currently depressed individuals were only mildly clinically depressed precluding conclusions about individuals with more severe levels of depression.