Experimental modification of appraisal atyle in a depression vulnerable sample : the benefits of seeing the big picture
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Depression is a serious public health concern that affects large numbers of individuals. Furthermore, individuals who experience a major depressive episode are at increased risk for additional episodes. It is important for research to examine the underlying mechanisms contributing to depression and develop interventions to prevent and reduce depressive relapse. Cognitive models of depression hold that depression is caused by biases in information processing. Thus, to address depression vulnerability, it is essential to consider information processing styles that may be beneficial. One such processing style is a type of appraisal termed big picture thinking. Big picture thinking involves considering context in order to obtain a wider perspective when in the midst of adversity. Existing research in the field of cognitive bias modification has begun to explore methods of altering biases in information processes. The present study contributes to this line of work by targeting a depression vulnerable population and examining the extent to which cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBM-I) can be used to encourage big picture thinking, an appraisal style thought to be beneficial for depression vulnerability. The current study had two primary aims: 1) to determine whether CBM-I could be used to induce a big picture appraisal style and whether such training would transfer to other tasks; 2) to examine the extent to which training in big picture thinking would reduce emotional reactivity to failure, rumination, and depression vulnerability. The study compared a group that received repeated sessions of cognitive bias modification aimed at training big picture thinking to a personal appraisal control condition aimed at training personal interpretations. Results provide evidence that big picture thinking can be trained using CBM-I and can generalize. Participants in the big picture condition transferred big picture thinking to two other tasks, one similar to the training task and one dissimilar to the training task. Training effects on a self-report measure of big picture thinking were not observed. Contrary to hypotheses, the big picture condition did not show benefits in emotional reactivity, and did not show lower depression or rumination immediately after training or at 2-week and 3-month follow-up.