Testing a "content meets process" model of depression vulnerability: The moderating role of cognitive control
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The overarching goal of this dissertation was to investigate the joint contribution of negative cognitive content and cognitive control in depression, and as such provide the first empirical tests of MacCoon and Newman's (2006) "content meets process" model. According to these researchers, depression-prone individuals have cognitive control deficits that limit their ability to mentally shift between different types of content and in particular to override negative content; consequently they fixate on negative content. We extended this hypothesis by proposing that the inability to disengage from negative content results not only in vulnerability to depressive episodes, but also in rumination, depressive symptoms and state precursors of depression following a stressor. These hypotheses were examined in three different studies. In Study 1 we found cross-sectional evidence that the synergistic effect of negative content and poor set-shifting ability predicted rumination; however, the interaction between negative content and cognitive control did not predict past history of depressive episodes. In Study 2 we found evidence that the interaction between negative content and poor set-shifting predicted reductions in positive affect (i.e., a depression precursor) following a laboratory induced stressor. In Study 3 we demonstrated that the interactive effect of negative content and set-shifting prospectively predicted both rumination and depressive symptoms. Together these results provide support for the content meets process model and show that the tendency to hold negative cognitive content in tandem with difficulty controlling those cognitions leads to rumination, depressive symptoms, and reduced positive affect. Furthermore, the results indicate that difficulty set-shifting in the context of emotional distractors may be the fundamental cognitive control deficit observed in the depressive phenotype.