Study Suggests Memory May Influence Development of Depression

Posted on December 28th, 2012
Posted in Depression

There are many triggers for depression. In some cases, it has strong biological factors, with certain genetic causes predisposing an individual to develop depression. In other situations, depression may arise from a combination of environmental factors, such as negative life events. In still other individuals, a diagnosis of depression may be associated with another mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

A new study suggests that how an individual’s brain processes memories may be influential in whether they develop depression. The findings may indicate that when a brain is more likely to forget, depression may be prevented.

Depression occurs in a wide range of severity. In some individuals, it is treatable with therapy or antidepressant medications. For others, however, depression can be resistant to treatment. Identifying factors that can lead to depression is important for the prevention of the disorder.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, finds that cognitive brain processes may provide a new understanding of how depression may develop in certain individuals. The researchers found that what the brain forgets and what it remembers may be a powerful influence.

A failure to remember certain negative events, for instance, may not be a terrible thing. Individuals who have brains that siphon off negative events from memory banks may be protecting their brains from patterns of negative retrieval. Forgetting a professional failure, a humiliating experience or a romantic heartbreak can be protective, according to the study’s findings.

Dr. Benjamin C. Storm and graduate student Tara A. Jobe of the University of Illinois-Chicago administered a memory exercise to participants that was designed to measure retrieval-induced forgetting. Retrieval-induced forgetting is described as remembering certain pieces of information that leads to the forgetting of other certain pieces of information.

In addition, the researchers measured the individuals’ recall for both negative and positive events from their lives. The results showed that those who had less retrieval-induced forgetting were able to recall more negative experiences rather than positive experiences.

The researchers explained that the findings suggest that those who are impaired in the area of retrieval-induced forgetting could be less able to prevent negative thoughts from persisting.

In other words, in some cases, forgetting may be a healthy protection against negativity. For some individuals, the presence of persistent negative thoughts is associated with depressive symptoms.

The findings may have important implications for treatment. While many patients respond well to therapy, there may be some patients for whom focusing on strategies to de-emphasize, or forget, negative events may be an effective treatment component.

It is important for those with depression to sustain close contact with a healthy support system from family and friends. These social contacts may also improve symptoms by providing positive interactions.

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