Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




K. Lira Yoon

Second Committee Member

Emily A. Haigh

Third Committee Member

Sandra T. Sigmon

Additional Committee Members

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Michael A. Robbins


Depression is a highly prevalent and reoccurring disorder. Cognitive theories of depression suggest that cognitive factors, such as negative cognitive biases (e.g., biased attention and memory) and rumination, influence the etiology and maintenance of the disorder. It is unclear, however, how these constructs manifest and influence each other in individuals who have experienced a past depressive episode (MDDr). To better understand cognitive vulnerabilities to depression, this study was designed to determine the relation between different cognitive biases (i.e., attention and memory) and how the relationship is influenced by rumination.

One hundred twenty-three individuals who had either experienced a past major depressive episode (MDDr; n = 62) or individuals with no psychopathology (n = 61) participated in the study. After a sad mood induction, attentional disengagement was measured using an Emotional Posner task with facial stimuli, followed by either a rumination or distraction induction. Attentional disengagement was assessed for the second time with an Emotional Posner task with previously unobserved stimuli. Following a filler task, recognition for the faces from the first and second Emotional Posner tasks was assessed.

It was hypothesized that individuals with MDDr would (a) display difficulty disengaging from sad faces, (b) exhibit increased difficulty disengaging from sad stimuli following rumination, (c) show a memory bias for sad faces, and (d) exhibit a strong relationship between biased attention and memory for sad faces when they ruminate. In contrast, individuals with remitted depression had difficulty disengaging from angry faces and displayed facilitated disengagement from angry faces following rumination. There were no memory biases for either group or condition. Attentional biases were also not related to memory biases, and neither depression group status nor condition (i.e., rumination or distraction) moderated the relation. Limitations, such as short-lived effects of the sad mood induction, may have hindered ability to detect relationships between the cognitive biases. Overall, the study indicates that individuals with MDDr attend to faces differently than their never-depressed counterparts, which could influence etiology and maintenance of the disorder.