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Proneness to Decreased Negative Emotions in Major Depressive Disorder when Blaming Others rather than Oneself

Green S.a · Moll J.b · Deakin J.F.W.c · Hulleman J.d · Zahn R.a, c
aThe University of Manchester and Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre, School of Psychological Sciences, Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit, Manchester, UK; bCognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Unit, D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; cThe University of Manchester and Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre, School of Medicine, Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit, and dThe University of Manchester, School of Psychological Sciences, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group, Manchester, UK Psychopathology 2013;46:34–44 (DOI:10.1159/000338632)


Background: One widespread view holds that vulnerability to major depressive disorder (MDD) is linked to overall increases in negative emotionality. In contrast, cognitive attribution theories emphasize the importance of blaming oneself rather than others for negative events. Thus far, the contrasting predictions of these models have not been directly compared. Following the attributional perspective, we tested the hypothesis that people with remitted MDD show no overall bias towards negative emotions, but a selective bias towards self-blaming emotions relative to those emotions associated with blaming others. Sampling and Methods: We compared a remitted MDD and a control group on a novel experimental test that allowed us to directly compare proneness to specific emotions associated with different types of self-blame (guilt, shame, self-contempt/disgust) and blame of others (other-indignation/anger, other-contempt/disgust) whilst controlling for negative valence and medication status, and excluding comorbidity. Results: In agreement with our hypothesis, individuals with remitted MDD exhibited an increased self-contempt bias (difference between contempt/disgust towards self and others) but no increased proneness to any other negative emotion or overall increases in perceived negative valence of stimuli. Moreover, the remitted MDD group exhibited reduced contempt/disgust towards others. Conclusions: Our results corroborate the prediction that vulnerability to MDD is associated with an imbalance of specific self- and other-blaming emotions rather than a general increase in negative emotions. Based on the composition of our sample, we speculate that self-contempt bias may be particularly characteristic of melancholic MDD subtypes and could be useful for stratification of depression in the future.


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