Research Article: Thinking about negative life events as a mediator between depression and fading affect bias

Date Published: January 25, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Claire Marsh, Matthew D. Hammond, Matthew T. Crawford, Anna Manelis.


The current research examined the links between depressive symptomology and anxiety on the fading of affect associated with positive and negative autobiographical memories. Participants (N = 296) recalled and rated positive and negative events in terms of how pleasant or unpleasant they were at the time they occurred and at the time of event recollection. Multilevel mediation analyses identified evidence that higher levels of depressive symptoms were directly associated with lower affect fade for both negative and positive memories. Tests of indirect effects indicated that depressive symptoms were indirectly related to lower affect fade for negative (but not positive) autobiographical memories via the heightened tendency to think about negative (but not positive) memories. Anxiety was unrelated to affect fade both directly and indirectly. These results suggest that people higher in depressive symptoms retain more negative affect due to an increased likelihood of thinking about negative autobiographical events.

Partial Text

Coping with negative memories and savouring positive ones is thought to exemplify healthy emotion regulation [1–3]. Fading affect bias (FAB) is the well-established finding that affect associated with negative autobiographical memories fades faster than affect associated with positive autobiographical memories [3–5]. A decrease in the efficacy of this adaptive mechanism may contribute to the maintenance of depression or anxiety [6, 7] yet there has been little research elucidating the connection between depression, anxiety, and FAB. The studies that have done so [6, 7] have used a limited range of depression and anxiety symptomology inventory scores and have not examined these in concert. The current research uses a multilevel modelling technique to assess dimensional variation in depressive symptoms and anxiety to comprehensively examine the link between these psychopathologies and decreased affect fade. To do so, we report on a large sample with a much greater range of clinically-relevant depressive symptomology and anxiety than have been examined previously. Additionally, the current research expands on this by examining potential mediators based on frequency of thinking about, talking about, or writing about positive and negative autobiographical memories.

The sample mean score on the BDI was 12.01 (SD = 9.75), and for the BAI was 18.81 (SD = 13.17). Table 1 presents the number of participants who fell within each level of the diagnostic categories for these measures. Unsurprisingly, scores on the BDI and the BAI showed a reliable positive correlation (r(294) = .60, p < .001). Age did not significantly correlate with either scores on the BDI (r(294) = .04) or the BAI (r(294) = .03). Our memories of the past inform our current world view and shape our daily behaviour. It is vital we have a clear understanding of how memory processes work, and what may help or hinder them, because autobiographical memory is essential to the construction of the self. The purpose of this research was to investigate the manner in which clinically significant levels of depressive symptomatology and anxiety impact FAB.   Source:


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