Self-Regulatory Perseveration and the Depressive Self-Focusing Style: A Self-Awareness Theory of Reactive Depression

Tom Pyszczynski, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

561 Scopus citations


In this article, we apply theory and research on self-focused attention and self-regulatory processes to the problem of depression and use this framework to integrate the roles played by a variety of psychological processes emphasized by other theories of the development and maintenance of depression. We propose that depression occurs after the loss of an important source of self-worth when an individual becomes stuck in a self-regulatory cycle in which no responses to reduce the discrepancy between actual and desired states are available. Consequently, the individual falls into a pattern of virtually constant self-focus, resulting in intensified negative affect, self-derogation, further negative outcomes, and a depressive self-focusing style in which he or she self-focuses a great deal after negative outcomes but very little after positive outcomes. Eventually, these factors lead to a negative self-image, which may take on value by providing an explanation for the individual's plight and by helping the individual avoid further disappointments. The depressive self-focusing style then maintains and exacerbates the depressive disorder. We review findings from laboratory studies of mild to moderately depressed people, correlational studies of more severely depressed people, and clinical observations with respect to consistency with the theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-138
Number of pages17
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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