Updating the Contents of Working Memory in Depression: Interference From Irrelevant Negative Material

Jutta Joormann, Ian H. Gotlib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

319 Scopus citations


This study was designed to assess the effects of irrelevant emotional material on the ability to update the contents of working memory in depression. For each trial, participants were required to memorize 2 lists of emotional words and subsequently to ignore 1 of the lists. The impact of irrelevant emotional material on the ability to update the contents of working memory was indexed by response latencies on a recognition task in which the participants decided whether or not a probe was a member of the relevant list. The authors compared response latencies to probes from the irrelevant list to response latencies to novel probes of the same valence (intrusion effect). The results indicate that, compared to control participants in both neutral and sad mood states, depressed participants showed greater intrusion effects when presented with negative words. In an important finding, intrusion effects for negative words were correlated with self-reported rumination. These findings indicate that depression is associated with difficulties removing irrelevant negative material from working memory. Results also indicate that the increased interference from irrelevant negative material is associated with rumination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-192
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008



  • attention
  • cognition
  • depression
  • emotion
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)

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