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Sociocultural. 1 ½ RULE. Cognitive. Psychodynamic. Psychological Explanations of Depression . Aim: Can I outline TWO psychological explanations for depression? Can I evaluate TWO psychological explanations for depression?.

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psychological explanations of depression


1 ½ RULE



Psychological Explanations ofDepression


Can I outline TWO psychological explanations for depression?

Can I evaluate TWO psychological explanations for



Although biological explanations for depression have attracted the most research support in recent years, psychological explanations have also been influential.

  • Possibly, some factors cause the development of depression whereas others maintain it.
  • Possibly, two or more factors are needed for the development of depression.
  • For example, someone may have low levels of serotonin, feel helpless and blame themselves for the negative events that happen to them. (Comer, 2003)
freud s p sychodynamic explanation
Freud’s psychodynamic explanation
  • Mourning = natural grieving period after loss
  • Melancholia = a pathological illness (depression) when grief does not end
  • Depression = anger turned against oneself
  • unconsciously harbouring negative feelings towards loved ones
  • resent being deserted by them
  • normal to grieve, recall memories
  • abnormal to continue pattern of self abuse and self blame
cognitive beck s theory of depression
Cognitive – Beck’s theory of depression
  • Beck’s theory of depression (1975) = negative schema: a tendency to adopt a negative view of the world during childhood due to e.g. rejection or criticisms by teachers, peers or parents
  • Activated whenever they encounter a new situation that resembles the original
  • Based on cognitive biases in thinking such as over-generalisation (sweeping conclusions of self worth based on small piece of negative feedback)
  • Negative triad = pessimistic view of self, the world and the future
cognitive learned helplessness siligman 1975
Cognitive – learned helplessness (Siligman, 1975)
  • D learned when person tries and fails to control unpleasant experiences
  • = sense of loss on control = depression
  • Results in failure to initiate coping strategies in the face of stress and circumstances that CAN be controlled
  • D think about unpleasant events in a more pessimistic way = hold themselves responsible
  • ‘reformulated helplessness theory’ (Abrahamson et al, 1978) = cause of unpleasant events are:

1. internal

2. stable

3. global

depressive attributional style

cognitive hopelessness abrahamson et al 1989
Cognitive - hopelessness (Abrahamson et al, 1989)
  • Depression based on pessimistic expectations of the future
  • Expects bad rather than good things to happen to them in the important areas in their lives and
  • believe they don’t have resources to change the situation
  • Successful therapies: meta-analysis of Beck’s cognitive therapy concluded 80% benefited
  • More effective than drug therapy
  • Lower relapse rate
  • Predictions of Beck’s theory are supported = depressed participants in studies who were given negative automatic thought statements became more depressed BUT does this prove cause and effect??
  • Seligman’s research on animals supported by human studies: college students exposed to uncontrollable aversive events were more likely to fail on cognitive tasks + other studies found that depressed college students performed worse of all on similar task
  • Hopelessness model supported by research: participants assessed weekly with higher negative attributional style showed more symptoms of depression when stressed
  • Negative attributional style might be more common in women because they are taught to think more negatively about themselves and this may help explain why more women suffer from depression
  • Women 20% more likely to suffer from depression – younger and longer and more related to stressful life events
  • Men might simply develop different disorders in response to stress: antisocial behaviour and alcohol abuse
  • Gender differences also in response to stress: women – focus on negative emotions + seek professional help. Men – use distractions like alcohol
major life event study
Major Life Event Study
  • Brown and Harris (1978)
  • Episodes of depression almost always preceded by a major life event
  • Study of depressed women in Camberwell, London
  • 2 circumstances influence a person’s vulnerability to severe life events:

* long term difficulties (marital problems)

* vulnerability factors (3+ children under 14,

not working outside home or lack of close


  • sample only women and British
  • women rely more on social support and thus more affected by loss
  • Stress