The influence of emotional target cues on prospective memory performance in depression.
ABSTRACT This study investigated the impact of emotional valence on event-based prospective memory performance in depression. Thirty individuals with depression and 29 healthy adults performed a prospective memory task in which the emotional valence of the prospective targets was manipulated (positive, neutral, negative). Collapsed across all valence conditions, healthy adults outperformed individuals with depression in the prospective memory task. This effect was qualified by planned contrasts indicating that the two groups only differed when responding to positively valenced cues, reflecting a positivity effect in healthy adults. These data are in line with previous research, which shows that healthy participants better remember positively valenced cues, but are the first to show an absence of this effect in those with depression.
- SourceAvailable from: Shayne Loft[Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Depression has been found to be related to neurocognitive deficits in areas important to successful prospective memory (PM) performance, including executive function, attention, and retrospective memory. However, research specific to depression and PM has produced a mixed pattern of results. The current study further examined the task conditions in which event-based PM deficits may emerge in individuals with high depressive symptomatology (HDS) relative to individuals with low depressive symptomatology (LDS) and the capacity of HDS individuals to allocate attentional resources to event-based PM tasks. Sixty-four participants (32 HDS, 32 LDS) were required to make a PM response when target words were presented during an ongoing lexical decision task. When the importance of the ongoing task was emphasized, response time costs to the ongoing task, and PM accuracy, did not differ between the HDS and LDS groups. This finding is consistent with previous research demonstrating that event-based PM task accuracy is not always impaired by depression, even when the PM task is resource demanding. When the importance of the PM task was emphasized, costs to the ongoing task further increased for both groups, indicating an increased allocation of attentional resources to the PM task. Crucially, while a corresponding improvement in PM accuracy was observed in the LDS group when the importance of the PM task was emphasized, this was not true for the HDS group. The lack of improved PM accuracy in the HDS group compared with the LDS group despite evidence of increased cognitive resources allocated to PM tasks may have been due to inefficiency in the application of the allocated attention, a dimension likely related to executive function difficulties in depression. Qualitatively different resource allocation patterns may underlie PM monitoring in HDS versus LDS individuals.Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 04/2014; · 2.16 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to investigate the role of global/local processing style, field-(in)dependence, and personality disorder traits in event-based prospective memory performance. One hundred and fifty participants took part in an experiment, where they were administered a computerized version of Navon’s global–local task. The PM task required participants to press a designated key whenever a blue compound stimulus was presented. Participants were then administered measures of field-(in)dependence and personality disorder traits. Data were submitted to logistic regression and hierarchical regression, separately for the two conditions (global/local). Results indicated that with respect to condition, global/local processing style, field-(in)dependence, and specific personality disorder traits differently affect PM performance.Personality and Individual Differences 11/2012; 53(7):912–916. · 1.88 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The current study compared time-based prospective memory (PM) for individuals with high depressive symptomatology (HDS) and low depressive symptomatology (LDS). We examined PM accuracy rate, clock-checking frequency, and decrements in ongoing task performance (i.e., costs to ongoing tasks) associated with an embedded time-based PM task. HDS participants demonstrated numerically lower but statistically comparable clock-checking frequency to LDS participants. However, their PM performance was significantly poorer than that of LDS participants. The pattern of observed costs to ongoing tasks and correlational analyses between ongoing task performance and PM accuracy showed that, relative to LDS participants, HDS participants were restricted in their allocation of attentional resources to support PM. We concluded that although HDS and LDS participants externally controlled their time-based PM task performance (i.e., clock-checking) similarly, the HDS participants lacked the cognitive initiative to allocate attentional resources to internally control PM task performance. Such internal control might reflect time-estimation processes, the resources required to maintain the PM task response intention, and/or the ability to coordinate the PM task response with ongoing task demands. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to have examined time-based PM strategies used by HDS individuals beyond clock-checking. The data suggest that interventions that encourage intermittent strategic reviews of PM goals may be beneficial for individuals with high depressive symptomatology.Acta psychologica 01/2014; 149:18–23. · 2.19 Impact Factor
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The i nf l uence of em ot i onal t arget cues on
prospect i ve m em ory perf orm ance i n depressi on
Mar ei ke Al t gassen a , Jul i e D. Henr y b , St ef ani e Bür gl er c & Mat t hi as Kl i egel a
a Depar t m ent of Psychol ogy , Techni sche Uni ver si t ät Dr esden, Dr esden, Ger m any
b School of Psychol ogy , Uni ver si t y of Queensl and, Br i sbane, Aust r al i a
c Depar t m ent of Psychol ogy , Uni ver si t y of Zur i ch, Zur i ch, Swi t zer l and
Publ i shed onl i ne: 18 May 2011.
To ci t e t hi s art i cl e: Mar ei ke Al t gassen , Jul i e D. Henr y , St ef ani e Br gl er & Mat t hi as Kl i egel ( 2011) The i nf l uence
of em ot i onal t ar get cues on pr ospect i ve m em or y per f or m ance i n depr essi on, Jour nal of Cl i ni cal and Exper i m ent al
Neur opsychol ogy , 33: 8, 910- 916, DOI : 10. 1080/13803395. 2011. 574607
To l i nk t o t hi s art i cl e: ht t p: //dx. doi . or g/10. 1080/13803395. 2011. 574607
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JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY
2011, 33 (8), 910–916
The influence of emotional target cues on prospective
memory performance in depression
Mareike Altgassen1, Julie D. Henry2, Stefanie Bürgler3, and Matthias Kliegel1
1Department of Psychology, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Germany
2School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
3Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
This study investigated the impact of emotional valence on event-based prospective memory performance in
depression. Thirty individuals with depression and 29 healthy adults performed a prospective memory task in
which the emotional valence of the prospective targets was manipulated (positive, neutral, negative). Collapsed
across all valence conditions, healthy adults outperformed individuals with depression in the prospective memory
task. This effect was qualified by planned contrasts indicating that the two groups only differed when respond-
ing to positively valenced cues, reflecting a positivity effect in healthy adults. These data are in line with previous
research, which shows that healthy participants better remember positively valenced cues, but are the first to show
an absence of this effect in those with depression.
Keywords: Depression; Prospective memory; Emotional valence; Salience; Self-initiated processing.
Depression is associated with low mood, loss of inter-
est or pleasure, feelings of guilt, and reduced energy
and activity. Besides these rather affective symptoms,
individuals with depression also exhibit cognitive diffi-
culties (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). It has
long been argued that these difficulties reflect prob-
lems with effortful, but not automatic processing (R.
M. Cohen, Weingartner, Smallberg, Pickar, & Murphy,
1982; Hasher & Zacks, 1979; Roybyrne, Weingartner,
Bierer, Thompson, & Post, 1986; Weingartner, Cohen,
Murphy, Martello, & Gerdt, 1981), which may indi-
cate impaired allocation of available resources (Ellis &
Ashbrook, 1988), loss of available resources (Weingartner
et al., 1981; Weingartner & Silberman, 1982), and/or
motivational problems (Hertel & Hardin, 1990). Indeed,
while depression-related deficits have been observed in
various tests of retrospective memory (e.g., Airaksinen,
Larsson, Lundberg, & Forsell, 2004; Austin, Mitchell,
& Goodwin, 2001; Fossati, Coyette, Ergis, & Allilaire,
2002), they are most evident when demands on self-
initiated processing are high (e.g., Austin et al., 2001;
Elliott, 1998; Hammar, 2003; Hertel, 2000). There appear
to be neural contributions to these cognitive difficulties,
with most evidence highlighting abnormalities in frontal
Address correspondence to Mareike Altgassen, Technische Universität Dresden, Department of Psychology, D-01062 Dresden,
Germany (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
and medial temporal systems. For instance, imaging stud-
ies indicate dysregulation in neural activity (greater pre-
frontal activation, Harvey et al., 2005; Wagner et al.,
2006; but see Okada, Okamoto, Morinobu, Yamawaki,
& Yokota, 2003, for attenuated prefrontal activation)
and volumetric reductions in the gray matter of the pre-
frontal cortex (PFC; Botteron, Raichle, Drevets, Heath,
& Todd, 2002). Abnormalities in limbic brain circuitry,
amygdala activity (Fales et al., 2008; Sheline, Gado, &
Kraemer, 2003), and hippocampal volume have also been
reported (Campbell, Marriott, Nahmias, & MacQueen,
2004; Videbech & Ravnkilde, 2004).
Although by definition prospective memory (PM)
imposes substantial demands on self-initiated process-
ing (Craik, 1986), only two studies to date have directly
tested whether PM is affected by depression (Altgassen,
Kliegel & Martin, 2009; Rude, Hertel, Jarrold, Covich,
& Hedlund, 1999). PM refers to the self-initiated realiza-
e.g., remembering to take the cake out of the oven after
60 minutes) or in response to specific events (event based;
e.g., remembering to pass a message to a colleague)
while being engaged in an attention-demanding ongo-
ing activity. The anticipation and execution of delayed
© 2011 Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business
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EMOTIONAL TARGET CUES AND DEPRESSION 911
intentions is supported by a broadly distributed neu-
ral network that includes structures within the PFC,
the parietal cortex, and the hippocampal complex
(Burgess, Quayle, & Frith, 2001; Burgess, Scott, & Frith,
2003; Okuda et al., 2001; Okuda et al., 1998; Simons,
Scholvinck, Gilbert, Frith, & Burgess, 2006). Thus, there
is considerable overlap between the neural systems that
are critical to PM and those that have been implicated in
depression. Importantly, the extent to which self-initiated
processing is required while performing a PM task varies
as a function of the task’s specific characteristics. For
event-based PM tasks, McDaniel and Einstein (2000)
suggested in their multiprocess framework a range of
factors and contexts that determine the extent to which
a PM task invokes relatively effortful or rather auto-
matic processes: task importance, the type of PM cue, the
ongoing task, and individual differences.
As noted, two prior studies have investigated prospec-
tive remembering in depression (Altgassen et al., 2009;
Rude et al., 1999). Rude et al. used a time-based
paradigm in which participants with depression were
required to press a predefined key every five minutes
while working on an ongoing activity. They could press
a different key for a display of the already elapsed
time. As expected, individuals with depression had fewer
correct PM responses than healthy adults. Moreover,
they checked the time less often and showed a differ-
ent time-monitoring pattern: Individuals with depres-
sion increased clock checks in the last time interval
before the target times less steeply than healthy adults.
Altgassen et al. (2009) applied an event-based task and
varied demands on self-initiated processing by using cues
that were either focal or nonfocal to the ongoing activ-
ity. The multiprocess framework suggests that nonfocal
cues impose greater demands on strategic processes to
monitor for the cue. By contrast, if a PM cue is focal
to the processes involved in the ongoing activity, the
cue rather automatically initiates retrieval of the inten-
tion (Einstein & McDaniel, 2005; McDaniel & Einstein,
2000). Accordingly, the results revealed a differential pat-
tern of depression-associated performance depending on
cue focality: Groups did not differ in the focal condition.
In contrast, individuals with depression were impaired in
the nonfocal condition that puts higher demands on self-
initiated monitoring for the cue. Taken together, these
studies imply that PM performance may not generally
be reduced in depression, but only if the task strongly
demands self-initiated processing, as in a time-based task
or a nonfocal event-based task.
Apart from cue focality, cue saliency may also
be important for determining self-initiated processing
demands (McDaniel & Einstein, 2000). Salient or dis-
tinctive cues may facilitate switching from the ongoing
task to the planned action by relatively automatically
drawing attention to themselves. So far, the effects of
prospective cue salience have mainly been investigated in
terms of cue familiarity (unfamiliar prospective targets
while ongoing task words are mainly familiar; Einstein
& McDaniel, 1990) or perceptual distinctiveness in com-
parison to ongoing task items (prospective targets are
presented in upper case and ongoing task items in lower
case; Einstein, McDaniel, Manzi, Cochran, & Baker,
2000). If depression effects are related to the degree of
self-initiated processing required, the provision of salient
cues should attenuate any depression-related difficulties.
While no study to date has tested this possibility, there is
empirical evidence that not only younger adults but also
populations with reduced self-initiated processing, such
as older adults, benefit from more distinct or less familiar
cues (Cherry et al., 2001; A.-L. Cohen, Dixon, Lindsay,
& Masson, 2003; Einstein et al., 2000).
Importantly, cues cannot be salient only in relation to
their familiarity or perceptual distinctiveness, but also in
terms of their emotional valence. While this aspect of
cue saliency has been largely neglected in PM research,
it is of especial relevance for depression-related perfor-
mance. In fact, so far, no study has explored the influ-
ence of emotional cues on PM performance in depres-
sion, and there are only three recent studies on healthy
adults that indicate that emotional valence may indeed
affect PM performance. Specifically, Clark-Foos, Brewer,
Marsh, Meeks, and Cook (2009) found that negatively
valenced cues were detected less often than positive cues
in young adults. Investigating younger and older adults,
Altgassen, Phillips, Henry, Rendell, and Kliegel (2010)
only observed age deficits when neutral (but not posi-
tive or negative) prospective cues were presented. Rendell
and colleagues (in press) observed a positivity but no
negativity effect in younger and older adults. Overall,
older adults had fewer PM hits, but showed greater ben-
eficial effects of positive valence than did young adults.
This scarcity is surprising given that emotional mate-
rial appears to be processed in a way that makes it
tional enhancement effect; Murphy & Isaacowitz, 2008;
Talmi, Schimmack, Paterson, & Moscovitch, 2007). For
instance, individuals show better memory for emotional
than for neutral information (e.g., Carstensen & Turk-
Charles, 1994; Charles, Mather, & Carstensen, 2003;
Denburg, Buchanan, Tranel, & Adolphs, 2003; Grühn,
Smith, & Baltes, 2005; Kensinger, Brierley, Medford,
Growdon, & Corkin, 2002). Moreover, there is some
evidence that for those with depression this effect may
be valence specific. Individuals with depression show
better explicit memory for words with negative valence
than for words with positive valence (Breslow, Kocsis,
& Belkin, 1981; Denny & Hunt, 1992). Similarly, people
with depression remember more negative self-referential
adjectives than positive ones (Bradley & Mathews, 1983)
and have better memory for depression-relevant content
in tests of both explicit and implicit memory (Rinck
& Becker, 2005). Thus, although some discrepancies
have been noted (e.g., Bazin, Perruchet, & Feline, 1996),
in a meta-analytic integration of this literature, Matt,
Vazquez, and Campbell (1992) concluded that while indi-
viduals with depression typically show superior mem-
ory performance for negative words that are congruent
with their mood, healthy adults instead show better
memory for words with positive valence. These find-
ings are in line with the mood-congruence hypothesis,
which predicts that emotional information that concurs
with one’s mood is better remembered than emotional
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912ALTGASSEN ET AL.
information of different valence (Blaney, 1986). Mood-
congruent information is assumed to receive superior
processing at both encoding and retrieval, which in turn
leads to better recall of congruent than incongruent
information (cf. the network theory of affect; Bower,
Most studies therefore indicate that depression is asso-
ciated with abnormalities in the attentional and mnes-
tic processing of emotional information (Moritz, Voigt,
Arzola, & Otte, 2008). The purpose of the present study
emotional cue salience on PM performance in this clini-
following the mood-congruence hypothesis, one might
predict individuals with depression to show enhanced
performance for negatively valenced cues and healthy
adults to show enhanced performance for positively
valenced cues. The alternative prediction is that, if there is
just a general emotional enhancement effect, both groups
would equally profit from cue valence. However, since
reduced strategic demands should particularly benefit
individuals with depression, depression-related deficits
should be attenuated for both positive and negative cues.
By testing group differences for all three valence types,
the present study is the first to directly test which of these
competing possibilities is correct.
Fifty-nine participants took part in the current study:
30 individuals with unipolar depression and 29 healthy
adults. The two groups did not differ in age (depression
group, M = 42.93, SD = 8.87; healthy adults, M =
40.48, SD = 11.17); F(1, 57) < 1, η2p = .02, years of
education (depression group, M = 12.78, SD = 3.30;
healthy adults, M = 13.26, SD = 2.64); F(1, 57) < 1,
η2p = .006, or gender (40% and 45% female, respec-
tively). Patients were recruited from a local clinic in
Zug, Switzerland, and were all inpatients with a current
diagnosis of major depression (American Psychiatric
Association, 2000). Diagnoses of depression were based
on structured clinical interviews. Exclusion criteria were
any other history of psychiatric or neurological disease,
or drug or alcohol abuse. Exclusionary diagnoses were
based on structured clinical interviews and clinical chart
review and included lifetime history and not just, for
instance, current abuse. As expected, individuals with
depression reported more depressive symptoms such as
hopelessness, irritability, feelings of guilt or punishment,
and physical symptoms on Beck’s Depression Inventory
(BDI; Beck, Hautzinger, Bailer, Worall, & Keller, 1995)
than did healthy adults (depression group, M = 19.20,
SD = 11.13; healthy adults, M = 0.69, SD = 1.61),
F(1, 57) = 78.53, p < .001, η2p = .58. All partici-
pants with depression were treated with antidepressant
medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,
SNRIs; or tricyclic or tetracyclic antidepressants).
(N =2), neuroleptics (N =6), and/or hypnotics (N =2).
The study was approved by the State Ethics Committee in
Zug, Switzerland. All participants gave written informed
consent prior to testing.
participants were also onbenzodiazepines
Materials and procedure
The ongoing task and PM task closely followed a pro-
cedure introduced by Altgassen, Kliegel, Rendell, Henry,
and Zöllig (2008). For the ongoing task, participants
completed a word categorization task (Einstein et al.,
2005; West, Herndon, & Covell, 2003). In each trial, par-
ticipants were presented with three words: one on top
indicating the target category and two below. Participants
were required to indicate by pressing specified keys (green
or orange key) for whether the left or the right word
belonged to the same category as that of the word on top.
Emotionally valenced words were selected from previ-
ous studies investigating the impact of emotional valence
on memory (Denny & Hunt, 1992; Ellwart, Rinck, &
Becker, 2003; Rinck & Becker, 2005), in which they
were matched on overall valence and frequency of usage.
(1994). Ongoing task items and PM cues were care-
fully matched with respect to word length, word type
(nouns only), and frequency of usage. Items were pre-
sented on a computer screen, and presentation lasted
until a response was made, but maximally 10 s—with an
interstimulus interval of 2 s between 2 trials. Emotionally
valenced ongoing task trials consisted of two neutral
words and one emotional word indicating the emotional
valence of the trial. Emotional words were always one
of the two lower words with right and left sides chang-
ing randomly. Participants were not informed about the
varying emotional content of the trials. Participants were
presented with a practice block that consisted of 5 tri-
als. Thereafter, they were asked to complete 15 ongoing
task trials (single-task block), which included 6 valenced
ongoing task trials (3 positive, 3 negative). The dependent
variable was accuracy.
Participants were then introduced to the PM task.
They were told that later in the session, after complet-
ing some intervening tasks, they would be required to
work on two tasks simultaneously, the ongoing task and
the PM task (dual-task block). For the PM task, partic-
ipants were asked to press the pink key whenever any of
nine target words appeared within a trial: “apple, rabbit,
surfboard (neutral); love, beauty, happiness (positive);
sadness, tiredness, sorrow (negative).” Task comprehen-
sion was ensured by asking participants to repeat back
their instructions in relation to both the ongoing task and
the PM task. The PM task consisted of three blocks, each
with 45 ongoing task trials (which also pseudorandomly
contained neutral, positive, and negatively valenced non-
target words to control for pure contrast effects) and
three PM targets. All words were only presented once.
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EMOTIONAL TARGET CUES AND DEPRESSION913
PM target items were never the correct response to the
ongoing task. Dependent variable was PM accuracy.
Acquisition of PM cues
Participants were presented with PM targets on a com-
puter screen in randomized order (one word at a time)
and were asked to learn them. Presentation of these tar-
gets was repeated until individuals correctly recalled all
words both orally and in writing. The dependent vari-
able was the number of repetitions until all nine words
were recalled correctly (first learning block). After com-
pletion of some filler tasks, participants were asked again
to recall all nine words in writing. If they could not
reproduce all of them, participants were again presented
with stimuli until they correctly recalled all words (sec-
ond learning block). Again number of repetitions was
recorded. Thereupon, participants performed other filler
tasks, and then the PM task started.
Posttest retrospective cue recall
At the end of the experiment, after all three PM blocks,
participants were asked to free recall all prospective cues.
Acquisition of PM cues
A repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA)
was conducted to analyze the two groups’ acquisition
of PM cues across the first and second learning blocks.
Significant effects for group, block, and the interaction
were found (Table 1). Overall, both groups needed more
repetitions to successfully recall all stimuli in the first
learning block than in the second learning block, and,
in general, individuals with depression needed more rep-
etitions than healthy adults. However, importantly, with
respect to posttest PM cue recall, the ANOVA indicated
no significant group differences (depression group, M =
8.40, SD = 0.72; healthy adults, M = 8.47, SD = 0.82); F
< 1, η2p= .01.
An ANOVA was then conducted to analyze partici-
pants’ overall PM performance collapsed across the three
emotional conditions. A significant effect of group was
observed (η2p= .07), which denoted overall better PM
performance for the healthy adults than for the depres-
adults, M = .82, SD = .15); F(1, 57) = 3.98, p < .05.
According to our hypotheses, we then computed planned
comparisons to compare group effects depending on cue
valence. These analyses qualified the overall group effect
as it indicated a significant group difference only for posi-
effects emerged for either neutral (F < 1, η2p= .01) or
negative PM cues, F(1, 57) = 1.01, p > .05, η2p= .02
(see Figure 1).1
Finally, ANOVAs were conducted to analyze groups’
ongoing task performance (Table 1). The results indicated
that only the effect of block was significant, with partic-
ipants performing better in the dual-task block than in
the single-task block (η2p= .82) but with no depression-
This study corroborates findings of the two previous
studies on PM performance in depression showing that
(under specific conditions) PM is impaired in those with
depression (Altgassen et al., 2009; Rude et al., 1999).
Importantly, the present study extends this limited liter-
ature in several relevant aspects. First, the present data
clearly show that these difficulties do not simply reflect
problems with the retrospective component of the task.
While the two previous studies did use simple single-cue
designs that imposed only minimal load on the retrospec-
tive component of PM, in the present study (mirroring
the demands of memorizing a shopping list) participants
had to memorize nine distinct target cues. Thus, although
the depression group required more trials to achieve a
comparable level of encoding to healthy adults (consis-
tent with other research documenting depression-related
deficits in verbal learning, e.g., Airaksinen et al., 2004;
Fossati et al., 2002), posttask control of episodic mem-
ory for the PM cues showed that the two groups did not
differ in how well they were ultimately able to (retrospec-
tively) store the target cues (as indexed by their free recall
of target cues following PM task completion). Second,
since the two groups were closely equated for perfor-
mance on the word categorization task in which the PM
task was embedded, the group differences also cannot be
attributed to participants with depression experiencing
increased difficulty with the ongoing task.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, of particular
interest in the present study was the assessment of
whether performance on the PM task was affected by the
valence of the PM cues. Here, planned contrasts indicated
that of the three valence types, the two groups only dif-
fered when responding to positively valenced cues. This
appeared to predominantly reflect a positivity effect in
the group of healthy adults, for whom accuracy respond-
ing to positive PM cues appeared to be elevated (for
the depression group, the trend was for better perfor-
mance on the neutral than on both the positive and
negatively valenced cues). On a first view, these data
appear to be in line with our first set of predictions
derived from the mood-congruence hypothesis and do
not lend straightforward support for a general emotional
salience effect. Data therefore seem to imply that, in con-
trast to other aspects of task salience such as cue focality
1Excluding all 9 patients who were on potentially sedating
drugs (benzodiazepine, hypnotics, neuroleptics) did not change
the overall results pattern.
Downloaded by [Université de Genève] at 06:02 12 August 2013
914ALTGASSEN ET AL.
PM task performance
Depression group M
Healthy adults M
F(1, 57), η2p
F(1, 57), η2p
F(1, 57), η2p
Acquisition of PM cues
First learning block
Second learning block
Note. PM = prospective memory.∗p < .05.∗∗∗p < .001.
Neutral PM cues Positive PM cuesNegative PM cues
Prospective hits (proportions)
Figure 1. Prospective memory performance. PM = prospective
Note. y-axis is truncated. Error bars represent one standard error
of the mean.
(which have been argued to generally reduce degree of
strategic or effortful processing and thereby reduce the
magnitude of depression-related effects; Altgassen et al.,
2009), emotional salience does not confer general benefits
to individuals with this disorder. However, although the
finding of a group difference for positively valenced cues
lends partial support to there being a specific mood con-
gruence effect, this effect appears to have been predomi-
nantly attributable to differential responding to positively
valenced cues by the healthy adults. Indeed, there was
no group difference in responding to negatively valenced
cues, with trends showing that both groups exhibit great-
est difficulty responding to PM cues that were negative
(relative to positive or neutral) in valence. Given the care-
ful matching of PM cues, we believe the observed group
difference on positive PM cues does not simply reflect
better performance of healthy adults, but in fact indi-
cates a valence-specific effect. However, future studies
are needed to replicate this finding. Further, a limitation
of the present study is that no reaction time data were
recorded. Future studies should not only quantify accu-
racy, but also assess reaction time data to further explore
valence effects in PM in depression. The present study
has important clinical implications. While positive cues
seem to be beneficial for healthy adults, individuals with
depression might benefit more from the provision of neu-
tral cues as a reminder of everyday PM tasks such as
remembering to regularly take medication. This needs to
be investigated by future studies.
Overall, these results provide a striking contrast to the
considerable literature documenting mood congruence
effects in retrospective memory in those with depres-
sion (Bradley & Mathews, 1983; Breslow et al., 1981;
Denny & Hunt, 1992; Rinck & Becker, 2005; see Matt
et al., 1992, for a meta-analytic overview) and may imply
that the processes that influence PM function in this
group might be different to those that influence retro-
spective memory. However, interpretation of this finding
is somewhat limited given that no data are available
on valence effects in learning and recalling of PM tar-
gets, and no experimental mood-congruent retrospective
memory tests were included. Future studies should test
valence effects on prospective and retrospective memory
in the same depression sample to further explore possible
differences in mood congruence effects in these two mem-
ory types. Moreover, it would be of considerable value to
also include neuroimaging techniques, which might help
to isolate the specific neural substrates that are involved
in mood-congruence effects in prospective and retro-
spective memory in depression. Studies on retrospective
memory indicate abnormalities in amygdala response to
negative stimuli in depression (reduced amygdala activ-
ity to negative faces; Moses-Kolko et al., 2010; while
greater amygdala activity to negative faces) as well as
reduced left dorsomedial prefrontal cortical face-related
activity (Moses-Kolko et al., 2010). No study to date has
Importantly, these data do not seem likely to reflect
differences in power between the present and preceding
literature—the average number of clinical participants in
the studies included in Matt et al.’s (1992) review was
very similar to that in the present study (30 in this study
vs. on average 24 in the meta-analysis). Nevertheless, a
caveat to these data is that participants were not asked
to rate items with respect to their arousal and absolute
valence. Thus, although prior research has supported the
use of the target items as indicators of the emotional
valences they were intended to represent (e.g., Ellwart
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EMOTIONAL TARGET CUES AND DEPRESSION 915
participants in the present study perceived the valence
of the items as intended, with potential implications for
internal validity. Relatedly, a broader limitation of these
data (and most other studies that have assessed how
valence and various cognitive functions interact) is that
emotional salience was manipulated by using words (or
in some cases images) that were normatively judged as
being positive or negative in content. Even if such stim-
uli possess objectively positive and negative qualities,
they lack personal emotional salience—this remains an
important consideration for future research. Moreover,
all patients were on antidepressants and some even
on potentially sedating drugs, which may have affected
their performance on the PM task; however, excluding
participants taking potentially sedating drugs did not
change the overall results pattern. External validity and
thus generalizability of findings may be somewhat lim-
ited due to the sample being highly selected (i.e., only
effects on PM in depression and only the third to tar-
get PM in depression,in general. In line with previ-
ous findings, we observed a PM deficit in depression.
Further analyses showed that individuals with depres-
sion and healthy controls only differed when responding
to positively valenced cues, reflecting a positivity effect
in healthy adults. These data are consistent with previ-
remember positively valenced cues, but are the first to
research is needed to further explore the possible differ-
ences in the nature of valence effects on prospective and
retrospective memory in depression.
Original manuscript received 22 March 2010
Revised manuscript accepted 7 March 2011
First published online 27 May 2011
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