Variation in the recall of socially rewarding information and depressive symptom severity: a prospective cohort study

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To test the association between recall for socially rewarding (positive) and/or socially critical (negative) information and depressive symptoms.


Cohort study of people who had visited UK primary care in the past year reporting depressive symptoms (N = 558, 69% female). Positive and negative recall was assessed at three time-points, 2 weeks apart, using a computerised task. Depressive symptoms were assessed at four time-points using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Analyses were conducted using multilevel models.


Concurrently we found evidence that, for every increase in two positive words recalled, depressive symptoms reduced by 0.6 (95% CI −1.0 to −0.2) BDI points. This association was not affected by adjustment for confounders. There was no evidence of an association between negative recall and depressive symptoms (−0.1, 95% CI −0.5 to 0.3). Longitudinally, we found more evidence that positive recall was associated with reduced depressive symptoms than vice versa.


People with more severe depressive symptoms recall less positive information, even if their recall of negative information is unaltered. Clinicians could put more emphasis on encouraging patients to recall positive, socially rewarding information, rather than trying to change negative interpretations of events that have already occurred.

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