Sticky Thoughts: Working Memory Training To Alleviate Depression

working memory and depression

The Bane Of Sticky Thoughts

Our own customers and previous published research studies have demonstrated a strong connection between working memory training and a reduction in depression. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science suggests that people with depression find it difficult to move on from depressive thoughts. The study centered on the central role of working memory in this process.

Those with depression tend to revisit depressing memories. “They basically get stuck in a mindset where they relive what happened to them over and over again,” said Jutta Joormann from the University of Miami, study co-author with Sara Levens and Ian H. Gotlib of Stanford University. “Even though they think, oh, it’s not helpful, I should stop thinking about this, I should get on with my life—they can’t stop doing it,” she said. The team postulated a link between depression and working memory function, or malfunction. The brain uses working memory for all active thoughts — both those we want and those that creep in uninvited.

Testing twenty-six people with depression and twenty-seven who had never suffered from depression, the team presented each participant with three words in turn, allowing them one second to read the word. After being instructed to remember the words in forward or reverse order they were shown one of the words from the list and asked to say whether it had come first second or third. A faster response indicated more flexible thinking.

The results showed that the group with depression took longer to answer correctly after reversing the sequence. When the list contained words likely to be connected to depressive feelings, such as “death” or “sadness,” it took them longer still.

“The order of the words sort of gets stuck in their working memory, especially when the words are negative,” Joormann says.

So, what can we do with this information? Train our brains to be better at actively focusing on what we want to pay attention to!  Fortunately, working memory is a very flexible and trainable brain function. Intensive working memory training can help us in the moment to get into a better mood because it redirects our attention. It can also help us long term to gain greater control over our impulses and active working memory.

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One Response to “Sticky Thoughts: Working Memory Training To Alleviate Depression”

  1. gte697h says:

    Interesting article. I’m finding benefits from the exercises in many different areas. One are I noticed an improvement is in humor. I’m now able to make observational humor references much faster than I ever used to be able to. Another area I’ve noticed improvement is in dealing with stimulii and decision making.

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