Cognitive Vulnerability in Moderate, Mild, and Low Seasonality

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Abstract

This study examined the association between cognitive vulnerability factors and seasonality. Students (N = 88), classified based on the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire as experiencing moderate (n = 26) or mild (n = 32) seasonality, and nondepressed, low-seasonality controls (n = 30) completed explicit (i.e., dysfunctional attitudes, automatic negative thoughts, seasonal attitudes, and rumination) and implicit (i.e., implicit associations test) measures of cognitive vulnerability at one winter and one nonwinter assessment. Relative to low- and mild-seasonality participants, moderate-seasonality participants endorsed more automatic thoughts and rumination in winter and more dysfunctional attitudes across both seasons. Moderate- and mild-seasonality participants endorsed more maladaptive seasonal attitudes than did low-seasonality participants. All groups demonstrated increased dysfunctional attitudes, automatic thoughts, and rumination and stronger implicit associations about light and dark during the winter. The findings support a possible cognitive mechanism of winter depression onset and/or maintenance unique to individuals with moderate, as opposed to mild, seasonality.

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