Sad benefit in face working memory: an emotional bias of melancholic depression

Stefanie C. Linden, Margaret C. Jackson, Leena Subramanian, David Healy, David E. J. Linden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Emotion biases feature prominently in cognitive theories of depression and are a focus of psychological interventions. However, there is presently no stable neurocognitive marker of altered emotion-cognition interactions in depression. One reason may be the heterogeneity of major depressive disorder. Our aim in the present study was to find an emotional bias that differentiates patients with melancholic depression from controls, and patients with melancholic from those with non-melancholic depression. We used a working memory paradigm for emotional faces, where two faces with angry, happy, neutral, sad or fearful expression had to be retained over one second. Twenty patients with melancholic depression, 20 age-, education- and gender-matched control participants and 20 patients with non-melancholic depression participated in the study. We analysed performance on the working memory task using signal detection measures. We found an interaction between group and emotion on working memory performance that was driven by the higher performance for sad faces compared to other categories in the melancholic group. We computed a measure of "sad benefit", which distinguished melancholic and non-melancholic patients with good sensitivity and specificity. However, replication studies and formal discriminant analysis will be needed in order to assess whether emotion bias in working memory may become a useful diagnostic tool to distinguish these two syndromes. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-257
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
Early online date27 Aug 2011
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • facial expression
  • short-term-memory
  • information
  • working memory
  • depression
  • antidepressants
  • emotion
  • major depression
  • melancholia
  • cognitive biases
  • facial expressions
  • angry faces
  • mood
  • disorders
  • naturally-occurring dysphoria


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