Stressful events are known to play a role in the genesis of depression. This is especially true in individuals with a cognitive risk factor known as Negative Cognitive Style (NCS). These individuals tend to make different types of attributions about the causes of negative events: that they are stable, global and internal. For instance, an individual with a NCS who failed an exam might think "it's because I'm stupid," rather than "it's because I didn't study hard enough."
We know that individuals with NCS are at greater risk of depression following a negative event, but we know little about the cognitive or neural mechanisms that translate stress into depressive symptoms in these individuals. To better understand these processes, Center researchers are conducting a series of studies with undergraduate participants in which a midterm exam is viewed as a naturalistic stressor. These individuals are assessed for their NCS prior to a midterm, and then complete cognitive tasks and fMRI scans following the midterm, in order to see if those with greater risk show differences in cognitive and neural processing following the midterm. It is hoped that this work will provide new insights into how high- vs low-risk individuals process stress-related information, which may have implications for treating and preventing depressive episodes in the future.