Emotional Functioning In Depression

Emotions are usually conceptualized as multisystem responses that involve changes in linguistic, behavioral, and/or physiological functioning (e.g., Lang, 1978). When an organism is confronted by relevant stimuli and challenges in the environment (such as a charging bear), its emotion systems generate responses that prepare it for adaptive action (Ekman,

1992; Tooby & Cosmides, 1990). Two of the major challenges faced by organisms are obtaining the resources necessary for survival and reproduction (such as food or sex), and avoiding situations or experiences that might threaten these goals (such as physical damage or loss of status). Consequently, a number of theorists have posited the existence of two primary motivational systems that are responsible for different forms of emotional activation: an appetitive system, associated with positive feeling states and prototypically expressed by behavioral approach, and a defensive system, associated with negative feeling states and prototypically expressed by behavioral escape or avoidance (Gray, 1982; Lang, 1995).

How does depression affect the generation of emotional states? From depressed patients' prototypical reports of emotion, it appears that MDD involves disturbances in both appetitive (positive) and defensive (negative) motivational systems. That is, depressed individuals typically report experiencing low levels of positive feeling states such as joy or amusement, and high levels of negative feeling states such as sadness, anxiety, and shame (Clark et al., 1994). Given this pattern of reporting, it is reasonable to hypothesize that depression should serve to decrease responsiveness to positive incentives and increase responsiveness to negative incentives. Interestingly, empirical research examining emotional reactivity in MDD provides only partial support for this hypothesis, suggesting instead that depression serves to diminish emotional reactivity to both positive and negative stimuli.

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