Depression, Self-Focused Attention, and the Negative Memory Bias

Tom Pyszczynski, James C. Hamilton, Fred H. Herring, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


On the basis of self-regulatory perseveration theory, we hypothesized that the negative memory bias commonly found among depressed people is mediated by excess levels of self-focused attention and thus can be reduced by preventing depressed people from focusing on themselves. In Experiment 1, nondepressed and subclinically depressed college students were induced to focus either on themselves or externally and then to recall 10 events that had happened to themselves during the previous 2 weeks. Consistent with our hypotheses, events recalled by depressed Ss were more negative than events recalled by nondepressed Ss under conditions of self-focus but not under conditions of external focus. We conducted Experiment 2 to determine whether this effect was specific to self-referent events or generalizable to events that happened to other people. Experiment 2's findings replicated the previous findings for self-referent events but showed a different pattern for recall of events that happened to others, suggesting that self-focus reduces the negative memory bias among depressed individuals by deactivating their self-schemas. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-357
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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