Background: It has been suggested that mood influences the breadth of associated information available for retrieval, with positive mood broadening and negative mood constricting the scope of associations. In this study, we asked whether this mood-associations connection is related to controlled processes which were linked to clinical symptoms in depression. Methods: We used the semantic priming paradigm, which allows the dissociation of automatic and controlled processes by using short and long intervals between prime and target words. We further examined whether the strength of semantic relations (weak or strong) influence the priming effects in both neurotypical and depressed individuals. Results: Experiment 1, testing neurotypical individuals, showed priming effects for strong semantically-related words regardless of interval length, but priming effects for weak semantically-related words were smaller in short intervals than in long intervals. Experiment 2, testing depressed individuals in long intervals, showed smaller priming effects for weak semantically-related words than shown by neurotypicals, but priming effects for strong semantically-related words which were comparable between the groups. Limitations: This study cannot determine the source for the differences in priming effects between depressed individuals and neurotypicals, and further studies are needed. Conclusions: This is the first study to show priming impairments in depressed individuals. We discuss our results in light of leading theories concerning cognitive impairment in depression, as well as the newly emerged field of digital psychiatry.
- Automatic and controlled processes
- Mood disorders
- Priming effect
- Word associations