Clinical Depression, Memory and Schemata Bias
Depression (clinical and subclinical) has been linked to impaired performance in a variety of memory experiments, and additional research has suggested that the effect may partly reflect deficits in the recognition or employment of informational structure in stimulus materials. It remains to be demonstrated conclusively whether similar impairments obtain for implicit memory pro-cesses (in which the subject is unaware of any conscious recol-lection). There is a different line of research, however, that bears more directly on depression and automatic (or unconscious) memory processes. According to the theory of depression of Beck and colleagues (Beck, 1976; 1983; Beck et al., 1979), the depressed individual is prone to make negativistic inferences and generalizations and prone to consequent biases in recall and rec-ognition memory (e.g., through selective abstraction, overgener-alization, magnification, minimization). These memory biases have been more broadly described as mood-congruent recall, referring to distortions in memory based on current mood state. Mood-congruent recall is an implicit, automatic memory process (to the extent that mood state may exert a systematic effect on the content of memory retrieval, without conscious awareness or intention on the part of the individual).
For clinical purposes, two generic findings from cognitive research on depression are important to remember. First, depres-sion is associated with general impairment for explicit memory tasks (recognition and recall). Secondly, depression is also asso-ciated with a mood-congruent memory bias. Taken individually, either of these symptoms may interfere with adaptive coping, be-cause accurate memory is necessary for adaptive and intelligent behavioral responses. In combination, the two memory difficul-ties can have a substantial impact on an individual’s perceptions of the self, the world and the future (Beck’s cognitive triad [Beck, 1976; Beck et al., 1979]), serving both to impair behavior and to maintain depressive affect. In consequence, memory disturbance in depression can be an important focus for clinical intervention (Beck et al., 1979), and it should ideally be considered in the for-mulation of a comprehensive treatment package.