Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Relationship between Depressive Symptoms and Error Monitoring during Response Switching

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Relationship between Depressive Symptoms and Error Monitoring during Response Switching

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 June 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Heightened sensitivity to failure and negative in- formation is thought to be an important maintenance mecha- nism for symptoms of depression. However, the specific neu- ral and behavioral correlates of the abnormal reactions to errors associated with depression are not yet well understood. The present study was designed to shed new light on this issue by examining how depressive symptoms relate to error mon- itoring in the context of different task demands. We used a modified flanker task in which the stimulus--response (S--R) mappings were reversed between blocks, differentiating rela- tively easy nonreversal blocks from the more-demanding S--R reversal blocks. Undergraduates performed this task and then completed a self-report measure of anhedonic depression. The results revealed that depressive symptoms were related to poorer posterror accuracy in the more-difficult S--Rreversal blocks, but not in the easier nonreversal blocks. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) within a subsample of these partici- pants further indicated that depressive symptoms were asso- ciated with reduced error positivity (Pe) amplitudes in both block types, suggesting that depressive symptoms were relat- ed to reduced attention allocation to errors across the easy and hard blocks. Finally, brain--behavior correlations indicated that highly depressed individuals failed to display a relation- ship between Pe amplitude and posterror accuracy in the S--R reversal blocks, a relationship that was intact in the low- depression group. Together, these results suggest that task demands play a critical role in the emergence of error- monitoring abnormalities in depression.

Keywords Depression . Posterror adjustments . Error monitoring . Response switching

The cognitive capacity to adapt after failures and setbacks is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. People who have a difficult time recovering from their failures are often at an increased risk for developing depressive symptoms. Decades of research have indicated that difficulties in coping with failures (e.g., attributing failures to a lack of ability, as op- posed to a lack of effort or motivation) promote helpless behaviors (e.g., Dweck, 1975; Dweck & Reppucci, 1973). Helplessness-the feeling that the situation at hand is uncon- trollable and will not improve-in turn, is associated with the onset and maintenance of depression (Klein, Fencil-Morse, & Seligman, 1976; Nolen-Hoeksema, Girgus, & Seligman, 1986). Moreover, depressed individuals are more likely to "overgeneralize" their failures, such that any particular failure indicates to the person that he/she is a failure (e.g., Beck, 2008). In sum, depressive feelings are associated with mal- adaptive reactions to failures.

Cognitive theorists have long conceptualized abnormal re- sponses to failures as resulting from a deficit of basic infor- mation processing (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979). More recent depression research has pointed to impairments in "cognitive control"-that is, the ability to monitor for errors and to implement appropriate behavioral adjustments (Miller &Cohen, 2001). Although these control impairments have been inferred from a number of studies, the precise mecha- nisms responsible for such impairments remain unclear. The present study was designed to shed new light on the contexts in which depressive symptoms relate to cognitive control deficits. First, we briefly review findings on depression and error monitoring and discuss the possible moderating role of task difficulty. Next, we describe an experiment designed to test whether task demands influence the effects of depression on error monitoring.

Depression and posterror adjustments: The moderating role of task difficulty

In addition to subjective reports of magnified reactions to failures (e.g., Wenzlaff & Grozier, 1988), emerging findings are indicating that individuals with depressive symptoms ev- idence impaired performance on trials following errors in cognitive tasks (e. …

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