A study published this week in Nature: Scientific Reports suggests that addressing a common cognitive deficit in people with depressive symptoms may help address those symptoms. Researchers at Hebrew University, Dominican University, and Posit Science Corporation found a significant correlation between deficits in the cognitive skill of inhibitory control and depressive symptoms.
Inhibitory control is a cognitive skill that permits people to check an impulsive response and instead make a considered response more consistent with achieving their goals. Scientists believe that in people with depressive symptoms, deficits in inhibitory control can lead to sadness being triggered easily and repeatedly from information that others might ignore or suppress through inhibitory control – resulting in what is referred to as “rumination” or “brooding.”
Based on responses to a psychological questionnaire at the beginning of the study, of the 114 study participants, approximately 29 per cent were classified as having minimal depression, 21 per cent as having mild depression, 20 per cent as having moderate depression, and 30 per cent as having moderately severe to severe depression.
The study used a computerized “go-no go” task to measure inhibitory control, in which participants were presented with a target image and then were presented a mix of images, in which the target was present 20 per cent of the time. As each image was presented for a split second, the participant needed to tap on the keyboard, if the image was not the target, and withhold a tap, if it was the target. Measuring the error rate provided the researchers with a measure of inhibitory control.
The study found that deeper depressive symptoms were associated with greater deficits in inhibitory control – regardless of the level of depression.
Participants also were presented with images that had varied emotional content: sad, happy, and neutral. Sad and neutral images resulted in worse response times.