Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression

Rick E. Ingram

University of Kansas

Jeanne Miranda

University of California, Los Angeles

Zindel Segal

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

An argument has been made that nothing brings mental health professionals closer to understanding the essential features of disorders than does the construct of vulnerability (Ingram & Price, 2001). Nowhere is this assertion probably more true than in the case of depression, where the study of vulnerability has begun to emerge as a focal point in efforts to understand and prevent this disorder. This chapter discusses theory and research that has examined the essential features of vulnerability to depression. A number of conceptual paradigms (e.g., biological, genetic) have offered important insights into the nature of vulnerability to depression. However, because cognitive factors have been widely recognized in the psychological-science community to play an important role in risk for depression, the focus is on cognitive approaches to vulnerability.

Several assumptions about vulnerability are addressed, and then cognitive theories of depression, and the statements they make about vulnerability factors, are examined. The research relevant to these theories is reviewed, focusing first on research conducted with adults and then the more limited data available on vulnerable children. Following this review, several ideas are suggested about the nature of cognitive vulnerability that emerge from extant theories and data. Before beginning, however, note that space limitations preclude an exhaustive review of all of the information relevant to theory and research on cognitive vulnerability to depression. Nevertheless, although the review is selective, each of the major topics is considered in terms of how it pertains to depression and cogni tive vulnerability. Readers interested in a more detailed account of the various topics and issues should consult Ingram, Miranda, and Segal (1998) and Gotlib and Hammen (2002).

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