Affective Processes

Enhanced Anger Reactivity and Reduced Distress Tolerance in Major Depressive Disorder

-Alissa J. Ellis, W. Michael Vanderlind & Christopher G. Beevers

Difficulty with effective emotion regulation is a central feature of major depressive disorder (MDD). Correlational evidence suggests that people with MDD experience elevated levels of irritability and anger, although few studies have experimentally tested this idea. The current study examined emotional reactivity across self-report (anger ratings), behavioral (task persistence), and physiological (heart rate, skin conductance) domains in response to a standardized, frustrating task in young adults with MDD (n = 74) and without MDD (n = 107). A secondary goal was to determine whether regulating emotional response with reappraisal, acceptance, or no instruction mitigated emotional reactivity across these domains. People with MDD responded with greater self-reported anger, lower galvanic skin conductance, and less task persistence (i.e., lower distress tolerance) than non-MDD individuals. Emotion regulation strategy did not differentially attenuate emotional responses between MDD groups. Instructions to accept emotions increased anger for all participants compared to reappraisal and no strategy instructions. Results confirm that enhanced anger reactivity and poor distress tolerance are present in MDD compared to healthy controls. However, additional work is needed to further develop and implement strategies that help people with MDD manage their emotional reactivity and enhance distress tolerance.

The role of controlled attention on recall in major depression

-Alissa J. Ellis, Tony T. Wells, W. Michael Vanderlind, and  Christopher G. Beevers

Information processing biases are hallmark features of major depressive disorder (MDD). Depressed individuals display biased memory and attention for negative material. Given that memory is highly dependent on attention for initial encoding, understanding the interplay of these processes may provide important insight into mechanisms that produce memory biases in depression. In particular, attentional control—the ability to selectively attend to task-relevant information by both inhibiting the processing of irrelevant information and disengaging attention from irrelevant material—may be one area of impairment in MDD. In the current study, clinically depressed (MDD: n = 15) and never depressed (non-MDD: n = 22) participants’ line of visual gaze was assessed while participants viewed positive and negative word pairs. For each word pair, participants were instructed to attend to one word (target) and ignore one word (distracter). Free recall of study stimuli was then assessed. Depressed individuals displayed greater recall of negatively valenced target words following the task. Although there were no group differences in attentional control in the context of negative words, attention to negative targets mediated the relationship between depression status and recall of negative words. Results suggest a stronger link between attention and memory for negative material in MDD.

Age-Related Developmental and Individual Differences in the Influence of Social and Non-social Distractors on Cognitive Performance

-Patricia Z Tan, Jennifer S Silk, Ronald E Dahl, Dina Kronhaus, AND Cecile D Ladouceur

This study sought to examine age-related differences in the influences of social (neutral, emotional faces) and non-social/non-emotional (shapes) distractor stimuli in children, adolescents, and adults. To assess the degree to which distractor, or task-irrelevant, stimuli of varying social and emotional salience interfere with cognitive performance, children (N = 12; 8-12y), adolescents (N = 17; 13-17y), and adults (N = 17; 18-52y) completed the Emotional Identification and Dynamic Faces (EIDF) task. This task included three types of dynamically-changing distractors: (1) neutral-social (neutral face changing into another face); (2) emotional-social (face changing from 0% emotional to 100% emotional); and (3) non-social/non-emotional (shapes changing from small to large) to index the influence of task-irrelevant social and emotional information on cognition. Results yielded no age-related differences in accuracy but showed an age-related linear reduction in correct reaction times across distractor conditions. An age-related effect in interference was observed, such that children and adults showed slower response times on correct trials with socially-salient distractors; whereas adolescents exhibited faster responses on trials with distractors that included faces rather than shapes. A secondary study goal was to explore individual differences in cognitive interference. Results suggested that regardless of age, low trait anxiety and high effortful control were associated with interference to angry faces. Implications for developmental differences in affective processing, notably the importance of considering the contexts in which purportedly irrelevant social and emotional information might impair, vs. improve cognitive control, are discussed.

Emotional reactivity and regulation in anxious and nonanxious youth: a cell-phone ecological momentary assessment study

-Patricia Z Tan, Erika E Forbes, Ronald E Dahl, Neal D Ryan, Greg J Siegle, Cecile D Ladouceur, Jennifer S Silk

Background: Reviews have highlighted anxious youths’ affective disturbances, specifically, elevated negative emotions and reliance on ineffective emotion regulation strategies. However, no study has examined anxious youth’s emotional reactivity and regulation in real-world contexts.

Methods: This study utilized an ecological momentary assessment approach to compare real-world emotional experiences of 65 youth with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or social phobia (ANX) and 65 age-matched healthy controls (CON), ages 9-13 years.

Results: Hierarchical linear models revealed that ANX reported higher levels of average past-hour peak intensity of nervous, sad and upset emotions than CON youth but similar levels during momentary reports of current emotion. As expected, ANX youth reported more frequent physiological reactions in response to a negative event; however, there were no group differences in how frequently they used cognitive-behavioral strategies. Avoidance, distraction and problem solving were associated with the down-regulation of all negative emotions except nervousness for both ANX and CON youth; however, group differences emerged for acceptance, rumination and physiological responding.

Conclusions: In real-world contexts, ANX youth do not report higher levels of momentary negative emotions but do report heightened negative emotions in response to challenging events. Moreover, ANX youth report no differences in how frequently they use adaptive regulatory strategies but are more likely to have physiological responses to challenging events. They are also less effective at using some strategies to down-regulate negative emotion than CON youth.