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Cognitive Inhibition in Depression

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses how a deficit in cognitive inhibition works as a contributor for depression in some people. The lesson defines cognitive inhibition as a normal process and talks about how an inability to depress negative feelings contributes to depression.

The Cycle of Negativity

Everyone remembers the grief of a loved one's death, but, as the old saw says, 'time heals all wounds'. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Emily. When she had a negative thought, emotion, or experience, it remained. It didn't dissipate as it should have, and she was forced to relive the negative emotion over and over. As it lingered, it caused her to dip into deep depressions. Her friends and family tried to empathize, but it was hard to understand why Emily just couldn't let things go. It didn't matter if the emotion was small or the event was something life-shattering, Emily seemed to experience a depression regardless.

What Causes Depression?

This is a weighty discussion and one that does not have a definite answer. Researchers have found that depression can be caused by a traumatic physical event; in some, it can have a genetic component; or, as in Emily's case, it can be the result of many other factors that cause depression in some people, but not in others. Researchers have recently begun looking at cognitive causes of depression, and they've made some helpful discoveries. For Emily, depression was caused by her inability to inhibit negative thoughts or feelings. This ability is called cognitive inhibition.

What Is Cognitive Inhibition?

Cognitive inhibition is crucial to the everyday processing of tasks. The system within the brain that is responsible for this process blocks out information (noise) that is not necessary to the present focus. For example, college students must often study in a noisy atmosphere. When a student wants to focus, the brain needs to be able to block out distractions to focus on the task at hand. Some people are able to completely tune the rest of the world out while they focus on a single objective for long periods of time. Unfortunately, when it comes to negative thoughts and feelings, people diagnosed with major depressive disorder have difficulty regulating and/or blocking them out. These people may have a deficit in their cognitive inhibition.

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