Saturday, 20 April 2013

Study Reports Depression can be Contagious

Depression afflicts thousands of people throughout the world every year. Several studies have looked into the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to depression in order to understand the condition better and develop more effective treatment options. In a recent study done by psychological scientists, Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames from the University of Notre Dame, the results suggest that within the college setting, depression might actually be contagious.

The researchers looked into the effects and manifestation of depression within the closed knitted area of a college dorm. The researchers theorized that during college years, people are often still exploring their own personalities and thus, become more vulnerable to accepting other people's opinions and mindsets as their own.

This increase in vulnerability could increase the risk of developing depression, especially if the people within the surroundings exhibit depressive symptoms and mindsets. 

Sad Depressed BoyThe researchers tested this hypothesis by gathering the data of 103 undergraduate pairs of students who were randomly placed in dorms. All of the students and their roommates were freshmen as the time. During the first month of college, the participants were asked to take an online questionnaire that measured their cognitive vulnerability and indicators of depression. Cognitive vulnerability measures a person's susceptibility to depression based on how he/she reacts to and interprets stressful life changes. The same questionnaire was administered three and six months later. During these two later points of the experiment, the participants were also measured on stressful life events that might have taken place during that time.

The researchers found that a person rooming with someone with high levels of cognitive vulnerability seemed to develop it later on in the year as well. The assessments during the two later points revealed that people tend to adapt their roommate's cognitive style, which led to higher rates of cognitive vulnerability. The researchers found that the reverse happened as well. People who shared a room with a person with low cognitive vulnerability also had lowered rates of this indicator of depression. Despite the fact that both cognitive styles seem to affect people, researchers were alarmed at how drastic the change was for people who lived with depressed roommates. They found that people who experienced an increase in cognitive vulnerability had about doubled the level of depressive symptoms than those who did not develop higher levels of cognitive vulnerability.

"Our findings suggest that it may be possible to use an individual's social environment as part of the intervention process, either as a supplement to existing cognitive interventions or possibly as a stand-alone intervention," the authors explained.  "Surrounding a person with others who exhibit an adaptive cognitive style should help to facilitate cognitive change in therapy. Our study demonstrates that cognitive vulnerability has the potential to wax and wane over time depending on the social context."

The study was published in Clinical Psychological Science, which is part of the Association for Psychological Science journal - By Cheri Cheng


  1. I would like to say thanks for your sharing this useful information. Nice post keep it up. Hope to see you next post again soon.
    With Regards,
    Clinical Psychologist | Clinical Psychologist in Sydney

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