Cognitive Vulnerability and Frontal Brain Asymmetry: Common Predictors of First Prospective Depressive Episode

Robin Nusslock*, Alexander J. Shackman, Eddie Harmon-Jones, Lauren B. Alloy, James A. Coan, Lyn Y. Abramson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The hopelessness theory of depression proposes that individuals with a depressogenic cognitive style are more likely to become hopeless and experience depression following negative life events. Although the neurophysiological underpinnings of cognitive style remain speculative, research indicates that decreased relative left frontal brain electrical activity holds promise as a traitlike marker of depression. This begs the question: Do measures of depressogenic cognitive style and resting frontal brain asymmetry index a common vulnerability? The present study provides preliminary support for this hypothesis. At baseline assessment, increased cognitive vulnerability to depression was associated with decreased relative left frontal brain activity at rest in individuals with no prior history of, or current, depression. Following baseline assessment, participants were followed prospectively an average of 3 years with structured diagnostic interviews at 4-month intervals. Both cognitive vulnerability and asymmetric frontal cortical activity prospectively predicted onset of first depressive episode in separate univariate analyses. Furthermore, multivariate analyses indicated that cognitive vulnerability and frontal asymmetry represented shared, rather than independent, predictors of first depression onset.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-503
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Cognitive vulnerability
  • Depression
  • Frontal EEG

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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