Our research program focuses mainly on examining the cognitive causes, correlates, and origins of depression. The current focus of the lab is on understanding the cognitive features of high-risk individuals. This research primarily examines the cognitive mechanisms of risk in adults, but also assesses processes linked to the possible developmental origins of cognitive risk. Specific projects have assessed information processing under conditions thought to elicit vulnerability, and have also examined the early experiences of vulnerable individuals that might predispose them to risk for later depression. For example, we have examined how problems in parental bonding and attachment are related to dysfunctional cognition in depression risk, and have also assessed dysfunctional information processing in high-risk children under affect-linked conditions. The lab has also begun to possible mechanisms linking depression risk to health problems.
Pupil Dilation, Emotional Information and Depression Vulnerability
This study is designed to examine whether people who are vulnerable to depression are more likely to attend to negative information, and to ruminate about this information, in comparison to people who have never been depressed. Attention is assessed through pupil dilation, which serves as a peripheral measure of depth of information processing.
Pupil Dilation in Dysphoria
Studies that have assessed sustained pupil dilation, an indicator of cognitive and emotional processing, have demonstrated that individuals with major depression process emotional, specifically negative, information for longer than nondepressed individuals. Individuals experiencing dysphoria (a negative affective syndrome that characterizes depressive states, but which is usually less severe, less enduring, and not exclusively related to depression) have performed similarly to depressed individuals on certain cognitive tasks. Thus, the current study is comparing sustained pupil dilation in dysphoric versus nondysphoric individuals during a valence identification task to determine whether this correlate of depression exists in individuals who have never experienced a major depressive episode. If dysphoric individuals exhibit greater sustained processing of emotional information than nondysphoric individuals, it might suggest that this factor contributes to cognitive vulnerability to depression.
Cardiovascular Reactivity Project
Although depression is known to be associated with cardiovascular problems, it is unclear if vulnerability to depression may be associated with risk, as indicated by cardiovascular reactivity (CVR). In response to a negative mood state, heart rate and blood pressure are measured in both vulnerable and not vulnerable participants.