22 September 2021: Cognitive dysfunction in depression: implications for risk, maintenance, and treatment

Kean Hsu
Department of Psychiatry
Georgetown University

Impairments in basic cognitive processes like attention and executive functioning are common, significant, and an unmet treatment need that has broad downstream effects for depressed individuals. However, the nature of these impairments and how they might lead to negative affect or clinical disorder remains poorly understood. This talk presents empirical data addressing three lines of questioning: 1) Is cognitive impairment a scar left by depression or does it potentially precede depression (or both); 2) how are difficulties with basic cognitive processes associated with the phenomenology of depression; and 3) does an experimental manipulation of these processes impact depression maintenance? To address these questions, I have assessed cognition in a variety of depressed populations, including monozygotic twin pairs discordant for lifetime depression, currently depressed, formerly depressed, and never-depressed individuals drawn from the community, and a sample of depressed individuals specifically expressing a cognitive process of interest. Future directions for this program of research, including identification of which cognitive processes contribute to the risk for, maintenance of, and impairment from emotional disorders, as well as how we can translate these findings in applied settings, will be reviewed.

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