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Mood, Motivation, and Mental Health: Need for Cognition in Major Depression

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AbstractBackground: The three studies comprising this dissertation explore the psychological construct of need for cognition (NFC)—a cognitive motivational tendency to engage in and to enjoy thinking— from a developmental and clinical perspective. We examined the association among psychophysiological data, subjective arousal ratings, NFC, and symptom severity in both mental health status and diagnosis (Chapter II). We also explored types of depressive symptomatology (cognitive, affective, somatic), age of onset, number and frequency of depressive episodes, and clinical diagnosis and their relationship to NFC (Chapter III). Finally, we investigated how early antecedent events, such as trauma, related to NFC in addition to symptom severity and characteristics of depressive episodes, such as age of onset and number and frequency (Chapter IV). Methods: Unmedicated participants were categorized into one of four groups (depressed: n = 42, anxious: n = 49, comorbid: n = 42, healthy: n = 43). Skin conductance and self-reported arousal ratings were recorded during a standardized emotional imagery task. Age of onset plus number/frequency of depressive episodes were collected via clinical interview. NFC, childhood trauma, and depression/anxiety symptomatology were collected via self-report. Results: A main effect of diagnosis was found in that depressed participants possessed significantly lower NFC scores than healthy participants (Chapter II). NFC was not related to specific depressive symptomatology or age of onset and number/frequency of depressive episodes (Chapter III). Higher trauma scores were likely to predict a depression diagnosis, but there was no relationship to NFC (Chapter IV). Conclusions: Need for cognition was not related to specific depressive symptomatology, characteristics of depressive episodes, or early life adversity despite the fact that depressed participants possessed significantly lower NFC scores than their healthy counterparts.

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