Depression and the organization of autobiographical memory

D.P. McAdams, D.B. Lensky, S.B. Daple, J. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depressed (n = 60) and nondepressed (n = 67) college students recalled and described 12 personal experiences: 3 interpersonal successes, 3 interpersonal failures, 3 instrumental successes, and 3 instrumental failures. The 12 open-ended autobiographical accounts were content analyzed in terms of a taxonomy of activity types. Depression was unrelated to the types of activity and the number of affect words observed in the accounts. As predicted, however, depressed students revealed significantly fewer different activity types in personal success (positive) experiences and a significantly greater number of different activity types in personal failure (negative) experiences than did nondepressed students. In terms of Tomkins's (1979) script theory of personality, depressed subjects appear to organize autobiographical memory in a manner opposite to that of the nondepressed. Whereas most people, Tomkins argues, tend to organize affectively positive autobiographical events in terms of variants (accentuating thematic differences) and negative autobiographical events in terms of analogs (accentuating thematic similarities), the depressed students in this sample appear to organize positive events in terms of analogs and negative events in terms of variants. The results are discussed in light of contemporary cognitive views of depression and recent narrative approaches, such as Tomkins's, to normal and abnormal personality functioning. Read More:
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-349
JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
StatePublished - 1988


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