Behavioral High Risk Research

Another approach to empirically assessing cognitive vulnerability uses a behavioral high risk paradigm, which employs a theoretically defined risk factor and selects people who, on the basis of the risk factor, are assumed to be vulnerable to depression. Although a number of studies have used this paradigm, two well-known high risk approaches have provided data on cognitive vulnerability: the Temple-Wisconsin Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression Project and the depressogenic personality/life stress congruency approach.

The Temple-Wisconsin Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression Project.

One of the more comprehensive studies undertaken to assess vulnerability is the Temple-Wisconsin project (Alloy & Abramson, 1999, see also Abramson et al., 2002). This two-site longitudinal study examines the etio-logical proposals of both the hopelessness model and cognitive schema theory as represented by Beck's (1967) model. This study assesses a group of individuals who, upon entry into college, were identified as possessing negative inferential styles or negative self-schemas, and compares their outcomes with individuals who do not show these cognitive characteristics.

Data reported from this project thus far have suggested a number of cognitive factors that may be linked to vulnerability. Most critically, those identified as being at high cognitive risk are more likely to experience depression at some point in the future (Abramson et al., 1999). Results have also suggested that, compared to the low risk group, high risk subjects process negative self-referent information more fully than positive self-referent information (Alloy, Abramson, Murray, Whitehouse, & Hogan, 1997). Regarding the origins of vulnerability, Alloy et al. (2001) also reported that the mothers of cognitively high risk individuals exhibit more negative cognition than do the mothers of low risk individuals, the fathers of high risk students are less emotionally accepting, and both the mothers and fathers of high risk students are more likely to make more stable and global attributions for the stressful events that their children experience. Gibb et al. (2001) also found more reports of emotional maltreatment in high risk individuals in the Temple-Wisconsin data. Overall, data from the Temple-Wisconsin project indicate that cognitive factors can predict the eventual onset of depression, they are related to dysfunctional infor mation processing, are associated with parents' cognitive processing, and to some degree may be the result of emotional maltreatment.

Congruency Between Personality and Life Stress and Vulnerability to Depression. A different conceptual and operational definition of high risk stems from research examining the match between the occurrence of key life events and specific sensitivities. Recall that sociotropy/depend-ency and autonomy/self-criticism describe cognitive styles that leave people vulnerable to depression when congruent stressful life events occur. Although most of this research is cross-sectional, evidence in support of the congruency hypothesis has begun to accumulate (e.g., Robins, 1990; Segal et al., 1992). For instance, in reviewing findings from 24 studies, Nietzel and Harris (1990) concluded that the match between cognitive style and congruent life stress places is associated with depression more so than is the nonmatching of events of similar severity. They also found that some types of matches were especially problematic; for example, the combination of elevated sociotropy/dependency interacting with negative social events led to greater depression than did the autonomy/self-criticism matching or the other two mismatches. Coyne and Whiffen (1995) acknowledged the greater predictive power of personality by life stress matches over mismatches, but because they did not believe this model is complex enough to accommodate fluctuations in the course of people's live, they were more skeptical about the relevance of this model to the study of depression vulnerability. This skepticism not withstanding, the empirical findings are clearly supportive of cognitive models of depression that locate vulnerability in the activation of individuals' meaning and need structures, and how these structures match up with life events (see Zuroff, Mongrain, & Santor, 2004).

Parent-Child Interactions in the Production of Cognitive Vulnerability. Different kinds of parent-child interactions may be associated with the development of cognitive vulnerability to depression. This section discusses research that has assessed some of these interactions, in particular, data that have been reported on attachment/bonding and cognitive vulnerability to depression, and data examining the link between cognitive vulnerability and abuse.

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