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Returning to Bad Memories Linked to Depression in Women

Certain women may be more at risk for depression because of the way they deal with negative memories, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The study showed that otherwise healthy women who tested high for neuroticism — a trait associated with having more negative emotions, such as anxiety — tended to return to their bad memories to think about them over and over.

This action, called rumination, is known to be associated with depression, the researchers said.

Furthermore, women who dealt with bad memories by trying to suppress them were actually more likely to remember them, and then feel bad after thinking about them, compared with women who used other coping strategies. No such link was found in men.

The findings suggest that learning to deal with emotional challenges, such as negative memories, in a healthy way may help prevent depression, said study researcher Florin Dolcos, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For the study, Dolcos and his team surveyed about 70 men and women ages 18 to 34 with no history of depression or other psychiatric disorders. Volunteers completed a questionnaire with 115 phrases intended to awaken memories of distinct life events such as “being hospitalized,” “birth of a family member,” or “witnessing an accident.”

Participants recorded the date of the event, reported how often they thought about it, and rated the emotional intensity of the memory. Only memories with strong emotional significance were chosen for the study’s analysis. Volunteers also completed a personality test.

Men who scored high in neuroticism were able to recall more negative memories than men who were low in neuroticism. On the other hand, women high in neuroticism tended to revisit the same negative memories over and over.

The study also focused on which of two general strategies participants used to deal with bad memories: suppression, which includes trying not to think about a memory, and reappraisal, in which a person attempts to lessen the blow of a negative memory by looking at it from a new perspective.

For example, you don’t get the job you wanted, but an opportunity or new connection resulted from the interview, Dolcos said. You could reappraise your memory by focusing on the positive points in any situation.

Dolcos said that by refusing to think about negative memories, a person does not get a chance to resolve their feelings about the situation. If you relive memories to reappraise them, you can find a solution to help you feel better, he added.

Choosing to reappraise bad memories will interrupting harmful rumination, and may help prevent the development of clinical disorders, including depression, Dolcos said.

Source: University of Illinois

Returning to Bad Memories Linked to Depression in Women

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Returning to Bad Memories Linked to Depression in Women. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Apr 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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