The overall goal of this project is to advance our understanding of mechanisms underlying maintenance of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Cognitive theories of MDD suggest that depressed individuals have deficits with cognitive control for emotional information that serve to maintain the disorder. Consistent with these theories, a growing body of research indicates that depressed individuals have difficulty disengaging attention from mood-congruent stimuli. An important distinction from attentional biases underlying anxiety disorders is that MDD is not characterized by automatic orienting biases towards mood-congruent stimuli, but sustained attention towards negative stimuli when they are presented for relatively long durations (>500 milliseconds). This growing body of research suggests that (a) MDD individuals have difficulty disengaging attention from mood-congruent information and, (b) this difficulty may result from biased elaboration on mood-congruent information. The studies outlined in this proposal seek to explore these hypotheses across behavioral and neural levels of analysis. Study 1 aims to provide strong behavioral evidence that MDD individuals have difficulty disengaging attention from mood-congruent information (i.e., negative words), but only when they have time to elaborate on those words (i.e., >500ms). Study 2 seeks to elucidate the mechanisms underlying these behavioral effects at a neural level, by testing whether mood-congruent elaboration interferes with efforts to disengage attention using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Together, these studies are expected to fill crucial gaps in our understanding of altered cognitive control for emotional information in MDD and, ultimately, influence the development of more effective treatments for this common, devastating disorder.

Public Health Relevance

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is on track to become the second most costly disorder worldwide in the next decade. MDD is a devastating disorder, impacting personal productivity, health, and social relationships. More effective treatments are required to combat MDD's substantial public health burden. More effective treatments depend on a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the maintenance of MDD. This proposal outlines two studies designed to answer key questions about cognitive maintenance factors in MDD and, ultimately, lead to the development of more effective treatments.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F12B-U (20))
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Rubio, Mercedes
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University of Texas Austin
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Clasen, Peter C; Fisher, Aaron J; Beevers, Christopher G (2015) Mood-Reactive Self-Esteem and Depression Vulnerability: Person-Specific Symptom Dynamics via Smart Phone Assessment. PLoS One 10:e0129774
Clasen, Peter C; Beevers, Christopher G; Mumford, Jeanette A et al. (2014) Cognitive control network connectivity in adolescent women with and without a parental history of depression. Dev Cogn Neurosci 7:13-22
Clasen, Peter C; Wells, Tony T; Ellis, Alissa J et al. (2013) Attentional biases and the persistence of sad mood in major depressive disorder. J Abnorm Psychol 122:74-85