Is there a valence-specific pattern in emotional conflict in major depressive disorder? an exploratory psychological study

Zhiguo Hu, Hongyan Liu, Xuchu Weng, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) clinically exhibit a deficit in positive emotional processing and are often distracted by especially negative emotional stimuli. Such emotional-cognitive interference in turn hampers the cognitive abilities of patients in their ongoing task. While the psychological correlates of such emotional conflict have been well identified in healthy subjects, possible alterations of emotional conflict in depressed patients remain to be investigated. We conducted an exploratory psychological study to investigate emotional conflict in MDD. We also distinguished depression-related stimuli from negative stimuli in order to check whether the depression-related distractors will induce enhanced conflict in MDD. Methods: A typical word-face Stroop paradigm was adopted. In order to account for valence-specificities in MDD, we included positive and general negative as well as depression-related words in the study. Results: MDD patients demonstrated a specific pattern of emotional conflict clearly distinguishable from the healthy control group. In MDD, the positive distractor words did not significantly interrupt the processing of the negative target faces, while they did in healthy subjects. On the other hand, the depression-related distractor words induced significant emotional conflict to the positive target faces in MDD patients but not in the healthy control group. Conclusion: Our findings demonstrated for the first time an altered valence-specific pattern in emotional conflict in MDD patients. The study sheds a novel and specific light on the affective mechanisms underlying the abnormal emotional-cognitive interference in MDD. Such emotional conflict bears important clinical relevance since it may trigger the widespread cognitive dysfunctions frequently observed in MDD. The present findings may have important clinical implications in both prediction and psychotherapy of MDD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere31983
JournalPLoS One
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 20 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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