Summary of Research on Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression

The extant data clearly suggest that negative self-related cognitions, whether conceptualized from a cognitive schema standpoint or an attri-butional standpoint, serve as cognitive vulnerability factors within the context of a diathesis-stress relation. Priming data show that these cognitive factors exist in vulnerable individuals, and they can be activated by the effects of stresslike experiences, such as the occurrence of negative mood. Moreover, some of these data, along with data on attributional styles, show that dysfunctional cognitive factors are associated with the onset of depression in response to stressful events. High risk research has also shown that the match between the type of event and the particular content of the negative cognitions is an important factor in determining whether depressive reactions will occur.

The data also reveal that disrupted interactions with parents pose a risk factor for later depression as a function of the development of cognitive vulnerability mechanisms. Such disruptions may take the form of poor parenting, as in overcontrol and a lack of care, or may be more malevolent, as in the sexual or emotional abuse of children and adolescents. Although theoretical perspectives suggest that the link between these parental behaviors and later depression in adulthood is cognitive in nature, the empirical data on the cognitive effects of these disturbed interactions are relatively sparse. Nevertheless, the extant data do support the idea that cognitive variables form mediational pathways between troublesome parent-child/adolescent interactions and depression. Of course, these data are not the only types that bear on the issue of cognitive vulnerability to depression and the origins of cognitive vulnerability. Most of the studies reviewed thus far have examined these factors in adults—most of them young adults. A body of data also exists on such factors in children and adolescents.

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