The Hopelessness Theory of Depression: Current Status and Future Directions
Lyn Y. Abramson
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Lauren B. Alloy
Gerald I. Metalsky
University of Texas-Austin
Recently, we ( Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989) proposed a revision of the 1978 reformulated theory of helplessness and depression ( Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978) and called it the hopelessness theory of depression. Our motive for proposing the revision was that, although the 1978 reformulation generated a vast amount of empirical work on depression over the past 10 years (see Sweeney, Anderson, & Bailey, 1986, for a meta-analysis of 104 studies) and recently has been evaluated as a model of depression ( Barnett & Gotlib, 1988; Brewin, 1985; Coyne & Gotlib, 1983; Peterson & Seligman, 1984), the 1978 article did not explicitly present a clearly articulated theory of depression. Instead, it presented an attributional account of human helplessness and only briefly discussed its implications for depression. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that much controversy existed about the status of the reformulated theory of depression (e.g., Abramson, Alloy, & Metalsky, 1988a; Abramson, Metalsky , & Alloy, 1988b; Alloy, Abramson, Metalsky, & Hartlage, 1988; Barnett & Gotlib, 1988; Brewin, 1985; Coyne & Gotlib, 1983; Peterson & Seligman, 1984).
In this chapter we present the hopelessness theory of depression. The hopelessness theory posits the existence of an as yet unidentified subtype of depression, hopelessness depression. We describe the hypothesized cause, symptoms, course, therapy, and prevention of hopelessness depression as well as its relation to other types of depression and "nondepression." In addition, we discuss how to search for hopelessness depression to see if it exists in nature and conforms to its theoretical description. Finally, because the hopelessness theory is new, the evidence about its validity is not yet in. However, we have conducted a number of studies to test it and will report them. Also, many of the studies conducted to