In this chapter, we have developed and illustrated the idea of socioemotional linkage, an idea with wide application to normal and pathological states. In depression research, this idea holds particular promise as a basis for integrating the disparate literatures on social and emotional functioning, and synthesizing the pattern of deficits that are observed in this disorder. To bring this integration forward to a full fruition will require investigators to deal with several unresolved issues.
Perhaps the most pressing of these issues concerns how socioemotional linkages evolve over time and across changes in clinical state. One problem in commenting on this question at the present time is that in the overwhelming majority of studies of emotional functioning in depression, individuals have been assessed only when they are acutely ill. Without inclusion of groups of participants who have a history of MDD but who do not have current symptoms of the disorder, or without following participants after recovery from depression, it remains possible that deficits in emotion processing (that is, reduced reactivity and/or emotional stereotypy) are simply products, or symptoms, of the depressed state. Determining whether or not these emotion deficits are more stable characteristics of depression-vulnerable individuals that are present independently of depressive symptomatology will be critical for clarifying their role in social dysfunction and for determining their etiological role in precipitating depressive episodes.
Another issue related to the causal status of emotion deficits involves an examination of their interactions with other factors in contributing to a vulnerability to depression. It is unlikely that a chronic deficit in emotional functioning (such as low tonic activation of the appetitive system) would operate as sufficient or proximal cause of depressive episodes, given that individuals who possess the risk factor are generally not in an episode of depression. Far more likely, then, is the possibility that emotional deficits interact with other factors such as stress or social support to lead to depression. For example, it is plausible that trait-like weakness in appetitive motivation leads to weakness or deterioration in social support networks that, in turn, renders a person more vulnerable to effects of stress. Therefore, studies that examine multiple factors in predicting future episodes of depression, as well as investigations that tease apart the relative predictive power of the appetitive/defense motivational systems, will be useful in moving this field forward.
Finally, it is critical that research designed to understand and improve interventions for depression (and other forms of psychopathology) consider the treatment implications of the idea of socioemotional linkage. Because social and emotional functioning form a dense network of interconnections, it is almost certainly the case that modifying emotion in a client affects his or her social functioning, and vice versa. Indeed, interventions might be more effective if therapists were cognizant of these socioemotional linkages, and of their connections to depressive symptomatology. To this end, research examining the efficacy of psychological treatments for depression would profit from a systematic investigation of different nodes in this socioemotional network, with the goal of determining which of these nodes offers the most efficient and most effective point of intervention, both to facilitate recovery from depression and to prevent relapse of this disorder.
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