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BACKGROUND: Cognitive theories associate depression with negative biases in information processing. Although negatively biased cognitions are well documented in depressed patients and to some extent in recovered patients, it remains unclear whether these abnormalities are present before the first depressive episode. METHOD: High neuroticism (N) is a well-recognized risk factor for depression. The current study therefore compared different aspects of emotional processing in 33 high-N never-depressed and 32 low-N matched volunteers. Awakening salivary cortisol, which is often elevated in severely depressed patients, was measured to explore the neurobiological substrate of neuroticism. RESULTS: High-N volunteers showed increased processing of negative and/or decreased processing of positive information in emotional categorization and memory, facial expression recognition and emotion-potentiated startle (EPS), in the absence of global memory or executive deficits. By contrast, there was no evidence for effects of neuroticism on attentional bias (as measured with the dot-probe task), over-general autobiographical memory, or awakening cortisol levels. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that certain negative processing biases precede depression rather than arising as a result of depressive experience per se and as such could in part mediate the vulnerability of high-N subjects to depression. Longitudinal studies are required to confirm that such cognitive vulnerabilities predict subsequent depression in individual subjects.

Original publication

DOI

10.1017/S0033291707000669

Type

Journal article

Journal

Psychol Med

Publication Date

09/2007

Volume

37

Pages

1281 - 1291

Keywords

Arousal, Attention, Circadian Rhythm, Depressive Disorder, Emotions, Humans, Hydrocortisone, Mental Recall, Paired-Associate Learning, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Personality Inventory, Reaction Time, Reflex, Startle, Saliva, Signal Detection, Psychological, Students, Verbal Learning